The Two Sunroots

On a good morning, the baby and I get out of bed a little early. On a bad morning, she will shout, crawl all over our faces and grab at charging cables (mostly to eat them) because her parents are playing a game of chicken to see who will take care of her first so the other can keep snoozing. On a morning where my better angels win, I snatch the baby out of the bedroom so Stephy can squeeze in a little bit more sleep.

Then, I start breakfast. I place the wee baby Shelby in her high chair facing me in the kitchen and make Stephy’s breakfast, usually a piece of toast with jam, a fried egg and ham, and my own—a cup of coffee (Stumptown via v60 hand drip). I put on a little music, usually my 60’s/70’s soul playlist (think Commodores, Al Green, Otis Redding, etc.) because there’s something special about Curtis Mayfield in the morning while the coffee is brewing. Shelby will dance in her high chair with me, and when she starts to get impatient, I sneak her a couple of cheerio-type puffs to snack on (don’t tell Stephy). 

Shortly later Stephy joins us, makes Shelby an actual proper breakfast and a new day begins. For a few moments, before everyone has to clock in and start their day, we are in our own little world. Our days go by in a flash, from meal prep to clean up to play time to nap time and back again, all the while, working. Soon, we forget about the wild world outside of the walls of our little kingdom. When the only occasion to leave the house during the week is to take out the trash, it’s easy to get lost in our small town with a population of three.

Yesterday, I got my copy of A Promised Land, the new memoir by President Barack Obama, the first book I’ve pre-ordered since Murakami’s Killing Commendatore (I don’t like new books, I prefer to wait for the paperbacks). Quotes have been leaking in the past few weeks as editors get advance copies so I’ve been looking forward to reading more about what it was like to be in the hot seat during so many pivotal events in recent history and what it took to lead this nation through them. Just reading the preface and opening chapter has got me thinking about leadership, public office and a commitment to the common good. The desire to be a leader that  I myself would be proud to follow has shaped who I’ve worked on becoming for as long as I can remember. Reading through President Obama’s humble origins and early experiences stokes a yearning within me, an ambition for accomplishing a wider breadth of good, that is central to who I am at my core.

At the same time, funnily enough, I’m making my nth reading through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the aforementioned Haruki Murakami. This novel, like most of Murakami’s, delves inward, and the scope of the protagonist is limited almost literally to the block that he lives on. Toru Okada spends extensive time alone and a good portion of that time is spent in complete isolation at the bottom of a dark, dry well. The words of these pages resonate with me too. There’s a quiet healing that comes from introspection and solitude. Murakami’s heroes spend a lot of time drinking coffee, listening to jazz and blending the lines between the real world and an imagined one. This aspiration is just as pivotal to who I am.

I suspect that my path in life will always rebound between these two Sunroot’s: the vision-minded champion and the melancholy bookworm. Maybe one day, I’ll learn how to recharge in my deep dry well so I can go get into some “good trouble.” I hope so. But for now, when I step back and reflect, I think I’m where I’m supposed to be. No matter how anxious I get, it’s hard to imagine being a leader outside without abdicating my responsibilities inside our little kingdom of three.

It’s hard to imagine not being home to clean Shelby’s food off the floors (and occasionally, walls) or making sub-par lunches for Stephy. Is it selfish to enjoy the weekend sleep-ins and groovy mornings with the dancing baby? I don’t know (I mean, it’s not like anyone is knocking on my door asking me to lead anything anyway, so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself). So I’m going to enjoy this time. When that hunger for public service kicks in (thanks, Obama), I’m gonna remind myself of the words from our morning jams…

Sittin’ here resting my bones
And this loneliness won’t leave me alone
It’s two thousand miles I roamed
Just to make this dock my home

Now, I’m just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Oooo-wee, sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time


On Tuesday, the morning of my 32nd birthday, I woke up in San Gabriel, in the bedroom where I stayed for the better part of my 22nd birth year.

This was because on Monday, Stephy, myself and the wee baby Shelby arrived at our home in Tustin to a yellow sky, darkened by clouds of ash and filled with the thick noxious smell of the Silverado Fire. By that point, we had seen the notifications and evacuation orders for neighboring Irvine, and while there were no evacuation orders for our home, we took a look at the map and quickly realized that we were about two blocks away from a mandatory evacuation zone. Out of an abundance of caution, we grabbed our personal items, baby necessities and everything we would need to work remotely and off to grandparents’ house we went. After a night of creating two temporary workstations in the old living room, we went to bed with baby enjoying her brand new Pack N Play, courtesy of grandma Jenny.

I woke up on my birthday in my old room. My time in that room defined my young adulthood. This was the room that I lived in for my first and second moves to California. It’s where I built my relationship with my dad’s side of the family and formed my own notions of who I wanted to be as an individual. I’ve woken up in that room a thousand times, but this time, I was with a brand new family of my own, celebrating my first birthday as a dad.

We spent the day doing our best to juggle work and the baby. This was done with me on a makeshift workstation, sitting on top of a white plastic lawn table, and Stephy, working from her laptop, sitting with the baby in an improvised couch enclosure. I don’t really know how to express my gratitude for a wife who works so hard while doing so much for the baby, often at the same time. I try to shower her with kisses, but that strategy has it’s limits. The simple fact of the matter is that what we’re tasked with is difficult.

Before this impromptu field trip (AKA evacuation) to my dad’s, Stephy and I were grappling with a couple of things. Last week was our first week without a nanny, and we were still adjusting to working from home with a baby sitting in a pen between us (Shelby naturally crawls over to Stephy’s side and tries to play, ignoring me). Questions arose around getting a bigger place for the baby to run around in, or navigating child-care for the foreseeable future. And lingering questions can be stressful.

It turned out that a little 13,000 acre fire helped to put some things in perspective for us. Mainly, it helped us to appreciate our home—the shelter it provides and the opportunity it affords us to be a family together. We came back to Tustin yesterday, after a day spent in San Gabriel and we were relieved to be in our home, and suddenly empowered by the ease of functioning in our own space that we’ve crafted to fit our needs.

The place in San Gabriel was my home for many years, and the family there will always be my family. But I’m building a new home and a new family. Or rather, a continuation of the family. A franchisee, so to speak.

During one of Stephy’s work meetings on my birthday in San Gabriel, I took the baby out for a walk. We ended up over at grandpa’s (my grandpa) with my dad (Shelby’s grandpa) and Jenny. Four generations of Liu’s were gathered in a room and a family history that stretched across centuries and continents could be found huddled around the tiny baby sitting on my shoulders.

It was clear that my role in the family had changed. A baton grandpa Liu passed onto my father had wordlessly passed to me. Within it lies the legacy of our family’s past, the weight of responsibility to my ensure a comfortable present for Stephy and Shelby, and the imperative to forge a better future Shelby and the world she will come to inhabit.

Usually, on my birthday, I try to reflect on myself and write something that sums up the themes that pervade my life at that moment in time. It is fitting then that my birthday this year was immersed in my family, from the 100+ year old patriarch to the 10 month old that actually rules over me. While I can selfishly indulge by eating my cake (and I do) and dreaming dreams of Nobel Prizes in Literature AND Peace, it is fitting that my first birthday as a dad would have me reflect on my family and not just myself. I mean, after all, it’s hard to navel gaze when the world is literally on fire.

The Evacuation Squad

sleepy musings on public service and the courage of young people in my instagram feed.

Yesterday, I fell asleep on our floor between the dining area and the babys new play pen. I did this because I was tired and since we had gone to the beach, there was a good chance I was tracking sand into the house. And as we know from the prequels, sand gets everywhere. 

I don't like sand." - Imgflip

As a result of the midday nap, I stayed up all night thinking about the future. Not necessarily mine; mine will mostly be filled with spreadsheets, weight-loss and throwing kisses at the wee baby, Shelby. The Future with a capital F. Maybe it’s because I keep seeing ads for the West Wing reunion (what’s next?) or maybe because like everyone else, I’m watching our country come apart at the seams.

I’m preoccupied with the future because I want to believe that our best days are ahead of us. I’m hopeful as I look forward because like many others, I’m growing disenchanted with the past. I can feel inside myself a swelling refusal to believe that the good ol’ days could have been that good when they were had at someone else’s expense. And as I watch millions of voices rising up on behalf of those who need it most, I’m not depressed, I’m proud. I’m proud of my country, not necessarily for our history, but the future that we are forging through disruption and compassion. 

And I think disruption is the operative word. In a broken system, the only language reform can take is disruption. You need people who are willing to say, “umm, that’s not ok,” or “can we do things differently this time,” or bang on the tables and rattle the walls, demanding change. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in and a wearisome responsibility to bear, but I see people taking it upon their shoulders everyday to make a better world for all people. How do you not get sentimental about the world that these people will help to build for us, our children and their children?

I insist on a stubborn optimism that says, no matter what 2020 looks like, we will make 2021 better than 2019. We’ve lost many heroes this year, but we can’t let the loss of our heroes cast a cloud that darkens the brightness of their legacies. Sure, we can stay up at night, tossing and turning, scrolling through the horrors of the day, but then, before we fall asleep we ought to think, and dream in our waning moments about what tomorrow CAN look like. We ought to spend just a little bit of time thinking about what’s next.

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” – Neil Gaiman

It was after midnight. All she needed was to be flipped over and given a pacifier. The wee baby is in a phase where sometimes, she’ll roll over, prop herself up, and then not know how to go back to a sleeping position. I had just wrapped up a lovely novel with a wonderful, satisfying ending (Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), and wasn’t quite asleep yet, so I stumbled out of my sweat soaked side of the bed and went to tend to the little one.

About five feet from our room is hers. Between the light coming through our drapes and the little leds on her humidifier, the path is never dark (even after a good Neil Gaiman book). A quick flip and her Elephant WubbaNub had her out like a light. Rolled on her side (like her mother does) with pacifier in tow, you could just make out where her chest rose and fell with each breath. I looked down at this child in her crib and thought about the stupid soul-wrenching love I have.

It’s the same love that compelled my parents to cross an ocean in hopes of a better life, to make their way in a land that was foreign and inhospitable. The same love that compelled their parents to fight against communist radicals or devote a life to working the land under the beating sun. I only wish my love manifested in some nobler fashion.

For me, it’s just a ridiculous, inexplicable feeling. Like now, when I watch old episodes of Pokemon, I find myself getting irrationally defensive of Pikachu because it is roughly the size and shape of the little baby. Does that count as courageous parenthood? I’m singing along to these inane nursery rhymes and babbling an infantile baby speech that I once vowed never to employ. And most recently, it seems that I’m making another career change (or two) to take my best shot at providing for my growing little family. Is there some nobility to be found in a cubicle someplace?

At some point, I crossed a river and I don’t know that I can get back across. Some days, it feels like I’ll lose who I am if I’m not careful. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself pining for, praying even, for a job that the 20 year old me would be shocked to have. But if I could speak to the twenty year old me, I would walk him five feet down the hallway, point towards that little bundle sleeping in that crib and tell him to shut the f*** up. I’d pull him close so he could hear my voice behind his ear and tell him, “this perfect creature is in our care now and she deserves more than we have ever wanted. Not everyone can live in a bivy or a van. Not everyone can subsist on caffeine and paperback novels. We’re going to make her proud, but first, let’s make her comfortable.”

Taiwan, the World Health Organization and the Extraordinary Voyage of an Unmanned Ship Called Galileo V.

A lot of our mornings in Quarantown start out the same. Stephy wakes up first while I laze about in bed. She feeds the baby and then presses Shelby’s butt and full diaper against my sleeping face and asks, “does this smell like pee to you?” It always does. Then, the baby and I nap together for a little as Stephy goes to work early because she’s a superwoman. On weekends, we all nap together.

This morning, while feeding the wee baby Shelby, Stephy was grumbling about something. It was a prepared statement by a group of Taiwanese activists to be published in the New York Times as a response to the World Health Organization’s treatment of Taiwan in the past few weeks. For the past few days, Stephy has been updating me on the ongoing back and forth between WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Taiwan. Some Taiwanese celebrities are spearheading a project to publish a public reprimand of the WHO by taking a full page ad in the New York Times (to which, I responded, “newspapers are dead.”).

Stephy was grumbling because the proposed statement was poorly written and unclear in it’s goal. My ears perked up.

Then I read the statements and made faces.



Then Stephy saw something that she doesn’t often see this early in the morning. She saw me leap out of bed, grab my laptop and get to work.

For a moment, I channeled my inner Sam Seaborn. I was in a daze, redrafting a letter that was equal parts indignant and patriotic—polishing the existing statement s like a proper speech-writer should. I stole from other great speeches. I made sure I didn’t quote Tolkien verbatim. I quickly revised and then  I built an overarching motif like scaffolding around this piece. It was like scratching an insatiable itch, and then I felt better.

I rushed back into bed to show Stephy. I had this idea that she would share it on that group page, it would get recognized, and this epic speech would propel my career as a speech writer to statesmen, presidents and world leaders. She looked it over, said it was fine, and that she was hungry. I got back out of bed and made some French toast.



In case you were curious, this is what I ended up with:

Taiwan is an island in many regards.

We are a small island of about 14,000 square miles in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, divided by a narrow strait from the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. Millions travel between China and Taiwan, but we have defied all expectations, minimizing the rate of infection and serving as an example around the world for preventing the spread of this deadly virus.

Yet now we find ourselves on an island again, isolated, on the world stage, excluded from many agencies, including the World Health Organization.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ refusal to recognize the efforts of the Taiwanese people and his blatant China-centric policies are not only disrespectful to the people of Taiwan, but dangerous to the people of the world who can gain from the experiences of Taiwanese health officials and front-line workers.

The spirit of the Taiwanese people is one that cherishes community. Our people are warm and generous, quick to lend a helping hand to anyone we come across whether in our native homeland, or abroad as we make our homes in countries all over the world. We seek inclusion into groups like the WHO because we believe we have earned our place there, but more importantly because we believe we have something to offer.

Our history has been devastated by diseases like COVID-19 and SARS, and now we believe that it is our duty to prevent it, not only here in Taiwan, but for all people, everywhere. We are bound by fellowship to the rest of the world and we will do everything in our power to come to the aid of those in need.

In the past three months, we’ve shared our knowledge and experience with the U.S. and the E.U. in an effort to improve testing for COVID-19 and hasten the development of a vaccine. Our government and kind individuals have donated over 16 million masks and other supplies, even as we face discrimination or exclusion overseas. We pen this message because we want the world to know that no policy or lack of recognition will stop us from sharing what we have with our friends around the world.

We may be an island, separated from the rest of the world by water and distance, but during a time where isolation is the norm, we have chosen solidarity.

This message is supported by over 27,000 contributors who participated in the crowdfunding project to publish this article.

Easter, This Year

This marks the first time in many years where I am not observing Easter as a professional clergy member. It feels strange not to prepare the prayers, embroil myself in those familiar passages and ruminate on the timeless truths of this somber, but joyous season. Ordinarily, this is the beginning of a mad stretch that includes major events revolving around Easter, graduations, summer retreats and mission trips. I am usually bracing myself for the brutal grind from March to September. This year, however, the season snuck up on me. Ash Wednesday appeared when I saw a coworker with a sullied forehead. Good Friday popped up suddenly without any fanfare. I’m accustomed to walking more slowly and more carefully through the season but this year, it feels as though I’m on the outside looking in.

Every year, I’ve had the obligation to examine this season and personalize it. I’ve always tried to make it a point not to do ministry by going through the motions, so if I’m preaching the resurrection, it’s a matter of integrity that I experience it as I invite others to do the same. This year, I haven’t had that same pressure. I’ve spent a lot of the lenten season getting fat on Postmates and binge-watching Yu Yu Hakusho.

Great moral lessons to be found here.

As a result this Easter feels distant and abstract. Today, I’ve tried to spend some time examining this, but deep down, I already know that for the past few weeks and months, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with God. I don’t ask God for much. I mean, of course I do when I’m praying for other people, and for causes and other things. But I have to admit, with a lot of prayers, I am a cheap date and a quick apologist. I can see how God works for the good of his people, not causing, but utilizing the worst of situations towards the ultimate goal of human flourishing and properly allocated glory. And then I’m cool with whatever the Big Man decides. 

But there’s a special type of prayer that spills forth from the guts. Every now and then, I ask something of God and I can’t see how he’s gonna work his magic otherwise. In short, I become a brat and I don’t take no for an answer. There are some things that I’ve been asking God for and his answer has been no.

And thusly scorned, I’ve been pouting. This is where I find myself this Easter.


I’ve never really been a Lee Strobel fan. It’s not that I don’t condone or appreciate his work. It’s just that I never really needed a case to be made to me about Christ. Christ was my lifeline when the only thing I was destined for was despair and misery. Christ is the lifeline for me still. I often recommend Strobel’s books, but they were never my personal cup of tea. That being said, there’s an exchange in A Case For Faith where Strobel is interviewing Chuck Templeton, a peer of Billy Graham’s, a gifted evangelist, and at the time of the interview, a vocal agnostic. Templeton rails against shoddy Christian scholarship, apparent contradictions in scripture and the seemingly irreconcilable reality of a broken world. But then, when Strobel asks him about Jesus, his face softens, his voice grows nostalgic. Then Templeton raves about the character of Jesus and tearfully admits, “I miss him.”

This conversation has always stuck with me. I don’t remember much else when I rushed through Strobel’s books on the 7 train while commuting to Brooklyn Tech, but I remember this. “I miss him.” That’s how I was feeling, how I often feel when I’m a bit wayward. 

That’s how I was feeling today when I crawled up to the loft holding the wee baby Shelby. She was getting a little fussy, so I decided that I was gonna read something to her. Stephy was making dinner and my mission was vital because 1. If I don’t get Shelby unfussed, Stephy doesn’t eat the food while it’s hot. 2. You smell everything more clearly in the loft and Stephy’s cooking smells good (curry and grilled chicken today).  Unfortunately, a large portion of my library consists of crime novels, literary fiction or other genres of books inappropriate for tiny babies. So I decided on some poetry. We started with a little Rupi Kaur, because sometimes I’m a basic b****, and also because I want to introduce the tiny baby Shelby to female poets she can look up to like Rupi Kaur, Maya Angelou or Joy Chen. 

Then I stumbled onto what I certainly needed today. I pulled out The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I knew it was right the moment I held it in my hands. I was in need of some truth, but I wasn’t going to hear it from a theologian or a pastor. I needed to hear it from a poet. Sometimes it’s just like that.

So I began reading Rilke poems to Shelby and ultimately, myself. I reminded the tiny infant child that they mention Rilke in Jojo Rabbit and that’s where she might remember the name, but Stephy yelled from the kitchen that Shelby didn’t watch the movie (she slept through Jojo Rabbit, can you imagine?). Shelby was very quiet and contemplative when I read the original German (my butchered, surely racist, German), but she got fussy and inattentive when I read the English. Sort of rude, actually. But it’s ok, I love her to death and I could kiss those cheeks forever and ever a hundred years. 

I read this poem.

In tiefen Naechten grab ich dich, du Schatz.
Denn alle Ueberflusse, die ich sah,
Sind Armut und armsaeliger Ersatz
Feur deine Schöenheit, die noch nie geschah…

Und meine Häende, welche blutig sind
von Graben, heb ich offen in den Wind,
So daß sie sich verzweigen wie ein Baum.
Ich sauge dich mit ihnen aus dem Raum
als hättest du dich einmal dort zerschellt
in einer ungeduldigen Gebärde,
und fielest jetzt, eine zerstäubte Welt,
aus fernen Sternen wieder auf die Erde
sanft wie ein Frühlingsregen fällt.
In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet…

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
like a spring rain?

Rainer Maria Rilke – The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God “The Book of Pilgrimage: II, 34”

For what it’s worth, it rhymes in German. It’s also deep and evocative and along with others in the book, this poem sums up the feeling in my guts as I enter into Easter this year.

I’m not predominantly mad. I mostly just miss God, and I feel stupid for letting my disappointment get in the way of returning to the only well that ever gave me life-giving water. It feels stupid to wander, but it’s reassuring to know that the moment I turn around and head back to Him, he’s there.

Important treatise on repentance

In the end, Resurrection Sunday isn’t supposed to be about me and how I feel about it, it’s about a good God who did everything in His power to break the walls between Himself and the ones that He loves. It’s about the life He volunteered to give on our behalf. It’s about triumph over the death that spreads it’s stench over every dimension of life. I love this Jesus God. He is risen indeed, and it feels like He rises again and again, every morning to find ways to remind me of those things I already know and always forget. Passover, the OG Easter, was established as a time where we pray the prayers, eat the meals, and most importantly, remember— remember the one who brought us out of Egypt, out of bondage, into a better life, not a perfect one, but one where we are free. 

Warrior, The Fighter and What If’s?

Last night, I watched Warrior (2011). I don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to it before. It’s right in my wheelhouse. There’s fighting, family strife, addiction and Tom Hardy with traps the size of mountains ranges. Even Cameron from House M.D. is in it (playing a very cookie cutter wet blanket character). On paper, it would seem to be custom made for me, but for some reason or another, I haven’t gotten around to it. Probably because I saw Fighting (2009) and I was worried this would be another low-budget, over-the-top, MMA porno. 


geez, look at those things.

While watching, there were scenes that made me so tense, I wanted to skip through them. They weren’t, as you might expect, the fight scenes. They were the scenes where Joel Edgerton’s character needed to think about how to pay the mortgage, or explain to a superintendent about his black eye. The fight scenes were gripping but they weren’t the object of tension, they were the release. It was the day to day that left me feeling battered. It always seems to be the day to day that leaves me feeling battered. 

The fights, on the other hand, are a catharsis. I envy the way fighters in movies get to let it all out. During a crucial fight, Joel Edgerton’s trainer tells him “ You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home.” The entirety of his struggle is made tangible. Everything he was helpless to change before is now malleable in his hands. Outside of the movies, day to day life doesn’t come with a release valve. The frustrations of work, the pressure of life, a lifetime of struggle— these don’t come with that button you find on your Instant Pot. I guess there are adult coloring books and transcendental meditation, but I don’t know man, I just feel like there are some amounts of steam that don’t get blown off with colored pencils. 

In The Fighter (2010), Christian Bale plays Dicky Ecklund, a crack-addicted former boxer, who gives Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) a moving speech in Mickey’s title fight. After the family overcomes failures, addiction, imprisonment, injuries and embarrassment, Dicky tells Micky “You f***in’ get out there, and use all the s*** that you’ve been through, all that f***in’ hell, all the s*** we’ve gone through over the f***in’ years, and you put it in that ring right now. This is yours. This is f***in’ yours.”

Screenshot 2020-03-26 at 8.02.27 PM

“take all of you s***, and get it together.”

There’s something incredibly powerful about the idea that you can take everything, everything bad in your life and channel into your fists and bring it into a ring. I don’t know about you, but there are aspects of my life that I’m deeply disappointed by. I feel like made me these promises that it didn’t keep. I feel like there’s a type of person I could have been and a kind of role I could have had in society but society decided it didn’t need what I have to offer. Sometimes, I feel so mad at God that I don’t know what to say to him. Sometimes, I feel like I’m Jonah and I ran away and God never bothered to send a big ol’ fish after me. He just said, “oh well,” slapped the dust off his hands and moved on. I can almost taste what it would be like to pour all of this damned heavy heaviness into my hands and let it all out. 

I envy the fighters because they aren’t helpless like me.


Yesterday, I was lying in bed thinking about the destiny I was meant to have. I could have been a great man. I could have led people through war and strife. I could have penned great American classics, composed compelling ad campaigns, directed masterpieces of cinema and stage. I was mad at the world for not wanting the qualities I love most about myself and replaying my favorite Fight Club (1999) speech in my mind.

“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s*** we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. and we’re very very pissed off.” Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk


How can you face that level of disappointment and not want to fight?

I stayed up at night and thought about what I wanted to say about all of this. I thought about how I would explain it to Stephy. I was gonna tell her that I love fighting movies because I can live vicariously through the hero who can fight a manifestation of his problems. And as I got to this section of self-pity, it sort of flipped around on me. A question kept popping into my head that I couldn’t put down. It’s the question that Stephy would have asked me, but she went to bed first. The question is this:

“Who’s stopping you?”

Who’s stopping me? The answer, frankly is no one. I have to come face to face with the fact that I, like the fighters in these movies, have the opportunity to take fate into my own hands. I want the chance on the big stage with the bright lights, but I don’t put the work in on the ground. I want the title shot, but I don’t want to live out the training montage. No one stopped me from doing the things I love. No one came crashing through my door and slapped the pen out of my hand or threw my laptop to the ground. I sabotaged myself through Instagram Explore, Covid-19 memes and my fourth rewatching of The West Wing. I do hold my fate in my hands, I just don’t live like it.

You know, I don’t think this piece turned out the way I thought. I thought I wanted to rail against the decline of masculinity, about the vacuum of leadership that exists in the world, and the minimal stakes in which we find ourselves out here in suburbia. But I think the place where I’ve arrived is the same as the best part of any truly good boxing movie. Good fighting movies aren’t about dealing with the world outside. They are about a man by himself, a man learning to conquer the demons within.


I have a lot of demons to conquer. I don’t have any discipline. I’m an addict, just not to anything sexy. I’m a glutton and a deadbeat. I’m a coward and I’m quick to point the finger elsewhere.  Maybe the takeaway from this isn’t to crave fight scenes, but to commit to the training montages. In a pivotal scene in Creed (2015), Sly Stallone (Rocky) points to Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and tells him, “You see this guy here staring back atcha? That’s your toughest opponent. Every time you get into the ring, that’s who you’re going against. I believe that in boxing and I do believe that in life. Okay?” You can feel the intensity when Jordan begins to confront his own demons as he shadowboxes. Stallone begins to step out of frame. As he takes a couple steps back, I can hear his voice speaking to me and my demons, speaking to where I need to put in some work. In that thick, tough guy accent, he says quietly, knowingly, “I’m gonna leave you two alone for a while.”  


Noodle Note

When you grow to my age, you don’t remember much about elementary school. You remember the names of your teachers and some of the names of your classmates. You remember making edible dirt with crushed brownies and gummi worms. You remember playing with a parachute in gym class and being sent to the principal’s office for making prank Valentine’s cards for classmates with crude names that you borrowed from that old PC game Scorch (well, I remember that last part).

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I seem to remember worksheets that asked me what my favorite color was (don’t know), who my personal hero was (Raphael from TMNT), and what I wanted to be when I grew up (inventor/President of the United States).  I didn’t know it then, but there was only one question with an answer that has not changed. What is my favorite food? My favorite food always has been and always will be beef noodle soup, 紅燒牛肉麵.


I grew up in Queens County, the most diverse county in the entire world (Google it). P.S. 163 and P.S. 173 were no different. People from every tribe, nation and tongue gathered a stone’s throw away from Manhattan to make a better life for themselves and for their families. They still do. But when you’re in grade school and you write beef noodle soup in a box on a worksheet, people don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. They think of chunky beef and vegetable soup. They think of beef stew with carrots and potatoes.

But they’re wrong. Beef noodle soup isn’t American. It isn’t Irish or English. Beef noodle soup is Taiwanese. Fatty beef shank, braised and slow cooked with bones for a deep, rich flavor. Soy sauce, rock sugar and star anise. Dough, delicious dough, hand pulled or knife cut into thick, chewy noodles that soak up the flavor without falling apart. Beef noodle soup is God’s gift to mankind, and it came by way of a little island formerly known as Formosa.


Main Street looked different when we were kids. When I was growing up, before there was Flushing Library, before there was Big Bowl or Starbucks, there was that wicked place Mega Academy and a string of excellent restaurants and supermarkets. On Main Street, in between 41st and 42nd ave., there was a Taiwanese Restaurant that made the best damn beef noodle soup in the city. Right smack on that street was a place that sold us 紅燒牛肉麵. I remember the sound of the bell against the door and the way the cashier had a booth before you got to the seating area. I remember the waitress with the hoarse voice, and the pulled back ponytail and a mole above her lip like Cindy Crawford. I remember the anticipation as we drove back home with it, burning hot even through the plastic container that I would hold to make sure it wouldn’t topple. Back then, I didn’t eat the meat or drink the soup, I just ate the noodles, and then I ate the extra noodles my mom would order for me and then I would eat my brother’s noodles that he didn’t finish, because beef noodle soup was my favorite food. 


When I was 21, I had essentially dropped out of college and moved to California (sorry mom). Then I decided to tag along with my dad and stepmom as they explored some business opportunities in China and Taiwan. It’s the longest stretch of time I can remember spending with my dad. I celebrated my twenty second birthday in a two bedroom condo in Taoyuan. It was during this time that my stepmom began to see some of the odd freakish similarities between father and son. Not the least of these similarities was the fact that we found an amazing beef noodle soup place on ZhongHua Rd. and without her intervention, my dad and I would have eaten there for every meal.

My dad, too, has always loved beef noodle soup and much of the mythology of my dad involves it. My mom used to tell me a story about my dad when he was growing up. My dad left home to go to high school in Taipei, so my grandma would give her beloved son enough money for two bowls of noodles. Two bowls, because beef noodle soup was his favorite food. A classmate of my father’s lost his parents when he was young and didn’t have the means to eat out, so for three years, my dad bought two bowls a day, one for himself and gave one to his friend. We now know that friend as uncle Liang.

Later, in college, uncle Liang introduced my dad to a precocious young lady from Chiayi. That lady was and is my mom.  


And thus, my parents fell in love (and out of love too, but that’s another story). When they were dating, my dad would take my mom all over Taiwan on his motorcycle. They rode through mountains and by the ocean, and when the engine would overheat, my dad would pull over to the side of the road and pee on it to cool it down. Dad would take off his belt and wrap it around the both of them as they cruised through the countryside day and night. My mom would fall asleep with her cheek pressed up against his back.

But they didn’t just travel around, they had their regular spots too. One of them was none other than a beef noodle soup shop. In certain restaurants, they will differentiate between 牛肉麵 (literally beef noodle), and 牛肉湯麵 (beef soup noodle). There were two differences between the two. First, the fact that the latter had no meat and second, the price. Since my parents were broke and in love, they split a beef soup noodle and the kind shopowner would give them a free tea egg.

After many shared bowls and after many long years of courtship, they decided to get married. The problem is, my grandparents didn’t support the marriage. They didn’t think my mom was good enough for their cherished son, so they didn’t show up for the wedding. When they did, guess who acted as a father for my own father when he married my mother. That’s right. The man who ran the noodle shop.


My grandparents would get furious because my dad would spend his holidays with the owner of the noodle shop.



Usually, Stephy reads these things when everyone else does. I catch her on the bed or couch scrolling on her phone. If I’m lucky, she’s moved by something she read and accepts my kisses. With this post, I read it to her in different phases as I wrote it. She asked me where I was going with it. I think this is where. 

Stephy likes beef noodle soup too. And so does her family. When we were in Taiwan, her dad brought us a really damn good one from somewhere deeper in the city. We ate it together—  myself, Stephy, her dad, aunt, niece, nephew, grandma and NaiNai the dog. We also ate beef noodle soup in a famous shop in YongKang Street, and at another place with my mom and brother and a couple of instant ones from 7-11. All told, I ate at least one bowl per day during our two week trip in Taiwan last year. What was I saying?


Stephy makes a hell of a beef noodle soup. 

Anyway, sometimes when she has the time, Stephy’ll make it at home. She makes it in the instant pot which spouts the smell of stewed beef all up in the air and when I walk through the door, I feel like I could cry. I feel at home. Maybe Shelby will feel that way too. Maybe it will be her favorite food, and she’ll think of good memories from growing up. Maybe she’ll think of the places she can count on, or her ethnic identity, or maybe she’ll think of people who love her. Or maybe not. Maybe she’ll have a different favorite food. Maybe it’ll be pastrami. I love Pastrami.

Thoughts You Might Have If You Binge Watch The West Wing While Social Distancing

When I finally got to the cashier at Trader Joe’s, I asked, “do you think I should’ve bought more stuff?” She looked down at my purchase, three bundles of flowers and a small bag of lemons. “Umm, probably,” she chuckled, then asked “Was it worth it?”

I had just waited for about half an hour in a line that was one among many lines that stretched through the aisles and went all the way to the back of the store. People filled their carts with foods, non perishables, and whatever supplies they felt would help them as they prepared to hunker down for the next who-knows-when. I was just there to pick up some daisies, baby’s breath and lemons for the wee baby Shelby’s 100 day shindig. Yellow daisies and baby’s breath were gonna match the balloons and the lemons were for the ice water in the glass dispenser.

I stood in line with these items in one hand and with my other hand caught Pokemon and worked on the New York Times crossword. It took some time, enough to catch ‘em all, but not enough to finish the crossword. By the time I got to the cashier, my eyes were a bit fuzzy and my hands were a little sore, so it wasn’t unusual for the cashier to ask me if I thought the wait was worth it.
“Yeah.” I said, and I meant it.

That was last Friday. Later that day, Orange County schools would announce that they’d be shutting down. A few days later, the county would announce a prohibition on gatherings and businesses involved in non-essential activities. The lock-down had begun.


It’s been a lovely time working from home. Stephy has a set up with the big monitor up in the loft, and I’ve put together a two-laptop battle station on the dining table. We eat all of our meals together and perhaps most importantly, we spend lots of time with the wee baby. Well, mostly, the baby hangs out and falls asleep and poops and cries and smiles at us, God, we love her so much.

When I’ve taken out the trash, or retrieved things from the garage, I gotten a chance to look around outside. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but it feels different. This week, I see more parents walking or playing with their children. I hear more laughter from through our windows coming from the other homes in the complex.

This morning, I left our self-imposed quarantine to run a couple of errands. One of my tires is underinflated, so naturally I’ve ignored the warning light for the past two weeks. Stephy gently reminded me this morning to take care of it, so I promptly went to our local gas station and failed to reinflate it. Afterwards, I ventured to go see what Sprout’s looked like. I kind of expected what I’ve been seeing on the news, empty shelves, a line around the block and fist fights over Charmin Ultra. What I saw were families shopping contentedly for supplies, dutiful workers stocking shelves, and a relatively normal looking store.

It wasn’t mayhem. It was… normal. And maybe it’s because I’ve been binge-watching the West Wing (Sorkin Seasons only), which is basically patriotism-porn, but as I left the store and walked through the parking lot, I felt an immense sense of pride in my countrymen. We are indeed a resilient people.


Later, we took the family out for a little drive. The baby likes to nap in the car seat, and Stephy wanted to see firsthand if I might be able to reinflate the tire with a second try (I was not). Everywhere we went, we saw families walking around in parks and while the restaurants and stores were empty, life continued to flourish despite our circumstances.

You can say that America was ill-prepared and naive to the gravity of the situation, but there is something admirable about the aura of invincibility with which we walk. You can call it hubris (and you ought to) but it’s lined with a confidence that comes from a long history of leadership and heroism. You can call those spring breakers idiots (and you ought to) but Americans are trained with an ethic where we don’t let circumstances dictate how and where we’d like to exercise our freedoms. 


I read a passage once that, like all great pieces of writing, latched itself deeply, irrevocably onto some part of my soul. Steinbeck wrote that “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” He writes so in response to his family who, upon discovering about his ailing health, discourages him from getting into his RV and driving around the country with his poodle, Charley. He won’t allow fear to stop him from what he wants to do. 

I grew up in New York, where every bit of logic told us to fear large gatherings, avoid public transportation, and I don’t know, build smaller buildings. But we didn’t do that, we said “**** the people who would have us crawl in our holes in fear” and we built the tallest building in the western hemisphere, designed it like a middle finger and named it The Freedom Tower.

Our country is not composed and classy like other ones. We don’t sing opera from our balconies, or organize group dinners across an apartment complex. We sort of hoard toilet paper and beat up Asians. We’re a young country, but we’re full of heroes like the cashiers at the grocery stores, like the nurses and doctors, like the government workers, mailmen, restaurateurs and delivery guys.

And we also like the little things, like insisting on having a good time for spring break. We also laugh in the face of danger, like going for walks with our family because of course it would take an unprecedented worldwide health crisis to get us out of the house. We like to do what we like to do, even if it’s unwise, like buying flowers for your baby even when she doesn’t understand what they are and there’s a pandemic to be hoarding for. 

What Would Kobe Do?

I’m not sure how these things are supposed to go. I’ve been slow to write this because I don’t know my end point. Part of me feels like I want Kobe to know what he meant to me. Another part wants everyone else to know. Then again, I think part of me just wants to remind myself. Something inside of me needs to know with certainty, that I am truly a fan. It’s important that this is true of myself. I am a Kobe Bryant fan.

Like everyone in this city, I have Kobe merch. I have tees, a couple hundred dollars worth of his signature shoes and for different phases of my life I’ve worn a custom-made bracelet on my wrist that reads “What Would Kobe Do?” My first real basketball shoes were the white Kobe IV’s that I wore until my foot would touch the floor through the hole in the bottom. For years, I made it a point to be the last person to leave the court because the shots I took while people were resting meant I was out-working them. I challenged anyone better than me to one-on-ones after games because I wanted to figure out weaknesses for the next game. Kobe has been one of my great sports role models. He’s shaped my approach towards challenges both on and off the court. Even still, it feels like I took him for granted. 


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May 2012


Some people are asking why? Why is there so much mourning over just a basketball player? I think part of why it’s so crushing is that, more than anyone in the NBA, people were most excited for the next chapter of Kobe’s life. Kobe’s post retirement saw him as an Oscar-winner, a coach, a philosopher and a mentor to the young superstars of the NBA. Kobe’s nod of approval is what the young bucks looked for. He became a statesman and a patriarch, not just for basketball but for all realms of life. Calling Kobe Bryant just a basketball player is like calling Bruce Lee just a kung-fu movie actor. 

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Mamba Mentality
For so many, the connection with Kobe goes so much deeper than basketball. For anyone feeling helpless on or off the court, the Mamba Mentality instilled a great power. You could be a killer, a warrior, a winner through sheer force of will. You see, Kobe wasn’t the most gifted or talented. He didn’t have the build like Jordan or Lebron. He didn’t have the giant hands or the indestructibility. He just worked harder than anyone in the league.

There are legendary stories of Kobe practicing for hours before teammates even get into the gym.

Then, just as many stories of Kobe playing through injuries because an ailing body could not get in the way of a man and his mission.

Then there are just legendary Kobe-isms:

The Matt Barnes inbound play.

“Job’s Not Finished” press conference.

Kobe and Chris Rock

The Kobe System

For scrubs on and off the court (like myself), Kobe’s career was a portrait of something truly special. It was special but attainable, because to be a Mamba was a mindset, not a set of God-given tools.

As I wade in the collective sadness, it kind of feels like Kobe is inspiring the masses towards something else. Maybe it has to do with the tragic nature of the crash and the fact that Gianna was involved, but it feels like Kobe’s teaching us to be better fathers, to do more to elevate women. Elle Duncan shared a beautiful story about Kobe that seems to be resonating deeply with people, including myself as a recently christened girldad. While he always supported women athletes, it seems that his role as a father, not a player, is making the biggest impact. 

It used to be, when I thought about Shelby grown up, I felt a sense of loss, because I can’t transfer my love of sports, camping, and violence to a daughter. Now, I’m convinced that it’s even more essential to instill that strength and confidence in Shelby. It’s what Kobe would do. It’s what he did with Gianna and all the girls.

There are a lot of things that I can say about Kobe Bryant. His impact on my life is dawning on me more and more as the world mourns together. I could talk about my approach towards basketball, my bastardized version of the elbow fadeaway, how I pin an opponents hand against their hip. I could talk about staying at the park late and shooting jumpshots in the dark.

But as I think about his legacy, I wonder if the best I can do is to make sure he impacts what he cared about most: family. Maybe the best I can do is to make sure Kobe leaves a mark, not just on my game, but on my daughter. As I’ve been wearing my “What Would Kobe Do?” bracelet in the past few days, it feels like it’s taken on a different meaning. Sometimes, I look at it when I hear Shelby cry and I decide to run over instead of waiting for Stephy to handle it. Sometimes, I look at it when I’m dying inside at work and I think about what my job means for my family. Other times, I look at it and it makes me think about a brighter future with better GirlDads and more representation and compensation for women. I think about a world filled with more people like Gianna and Kobe Bryant in this world.