Ending Friendships


Have you ever had to end a friendship? I have.


I’ve always wanted to live overseas. That was my childhood dream; to live in a foreign country. I have done that and I can now check that off my to-do list. Living overseas is the best thing I have ever done and I have no regrets. If I had the chance to live in another country besides China I’d do it.


But I was never prepared to return home. I was not prepared for change in my hometown and I certainly was not prepared to face people’s expectations of me.


I know I have changed. I’m no longer the goody-two-shoed high school girl I was in high school. I do drop f-bombs from time to time. I enjoy have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I’m no longer a tea-totaler. Yet people expect me to behave like I did in high school.


Some people forget that I spent fourteen years in China. Case in point. I had to restrict my contact with someone I grew up with. This cousin of mine seems to have a memory lapse. She once told me that she is so thankful for me being there when her marriage ended.

There’s just one problem.

I have no memory of what happened between her and her ex-husband. I was out of the country. This cousin also seems to believe that I have kept in touch with other relatives in our family when, in fact, I have not done so since college. I was rebuked in a nasty e-mail by this cousin for not wanting to “help” family. Even if I had contact information I was not at liberty to give that to anyone else unless I was given permission. I promptly blocked her e-mail address and deleted her contact info off my phone.

However, I have left one number open and that is my land line number. If she needs to call me she can use that number.

I’ve also had to end another friendship.

I left China on Sept. 12th, 2012 which means it was Sept. 11th back in the States. I flew on the eleventh anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers. That was my way of sticking it to the terrorists.

Every year since my return I remember this personal event in my life. I have no children and I have no wedding anniversary to celebrate. I only have my books as well as events such as this one. I remember this personal milestone by posting a status update on my Facebook page commemorating this occasion. It is important for me to do this as a way to help me mentally. It is also my way of not forgetting the country I left behind.

This past 9-11 however was extraordinary. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma slammed into Texas and Florida respectively. I’ve seen the news reports like everyone else on television. As a community emergency response team(CERT) member I pay attention to those reports to learn what I can to do in case Hawaii gets hit by a disaster.

Having said that our team motto is doing the most good for the greatest amount of people. But we also have another motto and that is to take care of you and your family first. That meant remembering my re-entry anniversary. So on that date I posted the following:

All the news is about Irma and 9-11. But for me I choose to reflect on my own personal journey. It’s been five years since I’ve been back in this country. I am fortunate to return to my home. But there are others who are not as fortunate.

My now so called friend replied in the comments, “That seems so selfish. Just saying.”

He crossed a major line. I have friends and colleagues on Facebook who are also going through re-entry issues like me and who read my posts. I still hear from them about their struggles back in this country. If they can read my posts then they can certainly read his criticism. I did not find this helpful at all either to me or my fellow reverse culture shockers so I deleted the comment.

When you mess with someone’s way of healing mentally you have crossed an irreconcilable line.

I wrote to this so called friend privately telling him that he crossed the line with his comment and that I’m ending this friendship. I explained my reasons for posting what I wrote. He wrote back. But from the first few lines in the message it didn’t sound apologetic. I refused to read the rest of his reply. As a result sadly I had to “unfriend” him.

Matthew 18:15 says “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother.”

But some relations are unhealthy. That is when I have to make new friends to replace the ones I’ve lost. I have to find other hobbies to get my mind off those people and the differences that separate us. I have done that through seeking online support groups that cater to expats who have lived abroad for as long as I have. I also write about it on my blog so that those like me will feel encouraged.

I end this note with an experience that is forever etched in my mind. This happened before I moved to China and was very young and naïve. I had a college friend from Hong Kong who was very home sick.

“I know how you feel,” I said trying to make her feel better.

She gave me this quizzical look. “Really?” she asked. “Have you ever lived overseas?”


“Then you will never understand how I feel until you yourself have been overseas.”

Those words stung. I have never forgotten them.

Years later after I moved to China I met this friend for lunch in Hong Kong while on vacation. I brought up that conversation we had while in college.

“Do you remember saying that to me?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she smiled.

“I have to thank you for saying that,” I said. “Now that I have lived overseas I know what it’s like. So thank you for saying that to me because those words actually made me want to live overseas even more. Your words may have surprised me at first. But in the end they changed my life.”


Lemons Into Lemonade



Dear Dreamers,


You don’t know me and I don’t know you. In fact I don’t know any dreamer personally. Yet I do feel for you. Here’s why.


I am the granddaughter of an illegal immigrant. My parents – children of immigrants – are respected members of our community. They are doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers, and business people. They have paid their dues to society much like what you are doing right now.


Now I’m not going to lie to you. Although my Gung Gung arrived as an illegal the rest of my family, for the most part, were born and raised in the U.S.A. I am here legally so I have no idea what it is like to have to hide in the shadows and be treated as a second class citizen.


But I do have an idea of what it’s like to live in a foreign country and I do know what it’s like to return to your roots.


I was born and raised in Hawaii. But in the summer of 1995 I moved to China to learn Mandarin and to learn something about my ancestral country. My father said, “You are Chinese. You should learn something about your ancestral homeland.” And with that I was off to China where I lived for fourteen years.


I also have distant relatives in China. I have cousins on my paternal side who are at least one generation removed. And yes, there are cultural and language barriers. Although they do speak Mandarin their mother tongue is Cantonese which I do not speak. Yet every time I visit they are overjoyed to see me and they cook up a nine course meal.


It is the first and last visit however that I want to share with you my story. My father wanted his American family to meet and re-connect with relatives in Hong Kong and China. He made the effort to get to know his cousins in Hong Kong who, in turn, took him back to his parents’ village in Kaiping. My Dad, in turn, brought his two brothers along and told the rest of us about our family in China.


So when I told Dad that I wanted to go to Kaiping he gave me the name of a customs official who, although not related, shared our family name Tan and who knew our relatives. This man brought me to the village which was, back then, on the outskirts of Kaiping. The village was surrounded by open farmland. Across the street from Gung Gung’s farm house was a gas station.


My relatives lived in Gung Gung’s house. This brick home was purchased through funds Gung Gung wired to his father so that Gung Gung’s brother had a place to live. Inside the home were two multi-purpose rooms, a family room, a kitchen, and a bathroom/shower unit. It was dimly lit and had just one light bulb hanging in the living room. And it smelled musty.


Outside were mostly fields of crops. What they were growing I do not recall. But they also had chickens running around their alley. One was slaughtered for my benefit.


I could see why Gung Gung left his hometown. One of my Kaiping cousins who is ten years younger than me, had only a junior high school education and she had to leave school to support her family as a seamstress. At one point she worked at a sweatshop in Macao to make ends meet.


That was in 1998.


Fast forward to 2016. Dad has since passed. But before passing he told me that he wanted his ashes spread on the Tanjiang River in Kaiping. On the way to the village the customs official pointed the river out to me as we drove over it.


On this recent trip my sisters, my brother-in-law, my niece, and my nephew went with me. We stopped in Hong Kong first where our Hong Kong relatives met us and took us over the border to Kaiping. It was a glorious reunion despite the sad occasion. My niece and nephew got to meet their Chinese cousin, a skinny energetic nine year old girl who kept running up and down stairs.


And speaking of stairs their home  has definitely changed and for the better. They still had Gung Gung’s original dwelling. But behind it they built a relatively new multi-storied home outfitted with better lighting and a modern bathroom.


As far as the rest of the village is concerned the city of Kaiping has just completely surrounded the village. The gas station is gone but at least Gung Gung’s musty old house was preserved so that my sisters and their families could see what life was like for Gung Gung.


Of course we came to carry out our Dad’s wishes, which is what we did. But after spreading his ashes we had to host a banquet, an affair our Hong Kong and Kaiping relatives organized. Thanks to Dad we had at least eighty people who came to pay their respects. We had no idea we had that many relatives and contacts in China.


The rest of the week we spent playing tourist and getting to know our roots with our relatives. We visited the Diaolou Towers and Movie Village. We celebrated my nephew’s birthday twice; once in Kaiping and once in Hong Kong. For weeks after we returned home all my nephew and niece could talk about was their trip to China, their first international trip.


So Dreamers, returning to your ancestral country is not all bad if you choose to go back on your own. If you do follow this path(and avoid deportation)take the time to ask your parents to set you up with friends or family members in your birth country. Take it as a learning experience. Granted you may be there longer that just a week so ask if they can help find housing and jobs for you. One of my Hong Kong cousins, a school administrator, says he also has connections to schools in China. If I ever wanted to return to China to teach I can contact him. Work your family connections because they will have your best interests at heart. The president has given you a lemon. I’m giving you a recipe to help you turn that lemon into lemonade.


And know that you will have people back in the U.S.A fighting on your behalf for your right to be fully fledged United States citizens.

Carefully Taught


Like many of you I’ve had to do some soul searching this week and keep my inner racist attitudes in check. I asked myself why do people hate other people? Why do people hate who they fear? The words that keep singing in my mind are the words of the musical team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein in their song from South Pacific “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”.


As a girl born and raised in Hawaii I was never exposed to the bigotry some of my relatives faced on the mainland U.S.A. I was taught by my parents to give generously to those less fortunate. I was taught to speak kindly of others and not “talk stink” behind someone’s back. I was taught to forgive those who have offended me.


I have been carefully taught.


I was taught how to handle chopsticks and a fork. I was taught that slurping your food in western culture is bad manners but slurping in Asia is a sign to the chef that their food is delicious. I was taught to eat chicken feet and fish heads, delicacies in Cantonese cooking, as well as hamburgers and hot dogs.


I have been carefully taught.


I have been taught to accept and love people for who they are. I’ve been taught to respect people of different faiths and physical abilities. I’ve been taught to speak up for what is right and condemn what is wrong.


I have been carefully taught.


But whether I have actually learned and applied what I have been taught is another story.


So I ask you dear reader. Have you been carefully taught? If so, have you applied what you have been carefully taught?


Just food for thought.