On Snails


The first time it happened, I didn’t even realize what I had done.

“You just KILLED a SNAIL,” Sonia declared, raising her eyebrows in reprimand.

It slowly dawned on me that the crunch under my right foot was not, in fact, a giant dry leaf. I cringed in horror as I realized that I’d stepped – no, stomped (being lightfooted is not one of my strengths) – on a large meandering snail that was minding its own business.

A snail shell acts to protect the snail’s body, including its heart and organs; it helps to retain the snail’s moisture. While the shell, which can be compared to a human’s nail, can still serve its purpose despite small cracks and holes, when it is crushed completely…the snail can dry out and die.

So when I realized that I had killed a snail, not just that first night, but a few more sickening, unexpected, dreadful “crunch” sounds after that, I vowed to become more careful. I began looking at the ground more as I went out on my nighttime runs, scanning the shadows on the sidewalk and attempting to navigate what felt like a snail landmine.

Frankly speaking, I feel like I’ve become quite the expert navigator over these past few months. I’ve been constantly navigating around my work, my relationships, my thoughts, cognizant of the fragility of it all. It feels exactly like stepping on a snail shell: if I don’t pay attention, I move so quickly through each day, and before I know it, I’ve broken a shell that I didn’t even see in front of me. And sometimes when the shell is broken, what’s underneath gets exposed: a heart that’s fighting hard as hell to make it through this objectively challenging time, refusing to become drained, daring to find purpose, striving to survive.

In fact, it feels like there have been so many so-called snails on this recent path, each with a shell more delicate than the next. It started, of course, when the rising COVID cases finally triggered the circuit breaker (read: lockdown) in Singapore. Week after week, we made the best of Zoom classes; some of us by sleeping, others of us by chatting more on Telegram, all of us – at the time – daring to hope that an end was in sight. I navigated this the best way I knew how: by deep-diving into relationships, engaging in endless walks and Zoom catchups and Telegram messages. To me, the value of my MBA experience was teetering on this fine line between tragically wasted and necessarily redesigned. I chose the latter because it empowered me; in creating my own joy and carefully selecting my surroundings, I softened the blow of this less-than-ideal year – although I acknowledged that, at any moment, this thin shield might be broken, and the crushing weight of a broken year might come crashing down.

Every day of these past three months, I have understood this fact: if I don’t navigate this time carefully, intentionally, gently, it is too easy for something fragile to be broken, and these days, everything feels pretty freaking fragile. The spirits of my classmates, as we repeat grim conversations about this seemingly endless circuit breaker and its impact on our MBA. The relationships we’ve developed, as people make decisions about staying or going, truncating friendships that perhaps might’ve blossomed in a different time. And even – especially? – the impressions we’ve built of each other, to each other: with limited physical interaction and heightened emotional tensions, impressions have become particularly fragile as it is harder to give generous assumptions and easier to just judge. Finally, the farewells: delicately crafting each goodbye to adequately honor the friendship, enough so that the goodbye is meaningful, but not so much that it is too painful.

The fragility is apparent in the plans of my friends, who smile through the disappointment as they postpone weddings to next year and move baby showers online. It manifests in how quickly my eyes well up when I start missing the people I should miss, and also missing the people I shouldn’t. It’s present in conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement, as I find myself tiptoeing and wordsmithing despite knowing that it’s not about me. It shows in our reactions to the movement itself: the tears we’ve shed from oceans away, frustrated that no amount of donations or discussions will bring change about quickly enough, pained that we can’t be back home to march alongside people we love.

I have been so focused on navigating these matters of the heart, recognizing that this is precisely what makes all of this so fragile: when you care about something deeply, you open your heart up to become particularly vulnerable, and tender, and exposed. It’s not about avoiding sadness, but about keeping the heart healthy so that it can continue to feel sadness, and joy, and disappointment, and hope, and most importantly of all, so that it can continue to care. So I continue to navigate through the landmine: whether it’s a snail’s shell or a delicate shield over my spirit, I’ll do what I can to keep it safe from being crushed. Because it’s worth the extra emotional labor to look out for what’s ahead, to be conscious of where I tread, ensuring that I can keep trudging along…even if it’s as slow as a snail.

Yesterday, I got off the phone with my grandparents and burst into tears, for no other reason than that I simply miss them so much and am desperate for China to open its borders so I can visit. “We miss you so much,” my grandfather said, “We keep counting how many more times we’ll get to see you. Maybe once, maybe a few more times. Who knows how long we’ll live.” For the first time in a long while, I was sent over the edge; no amount of careful navigation can save you from the heartbreak of loss, even if it’s hypothetical. And yet – even though I’m exhausted from all the emotions that have come with these past few months, I also feel stronger than ever, confident that I’ve kept my heart safe for the matters that matter, and that I will keep inching on until the end of this time.

Photo Credit: I spent an hour and a half outside looking for a snail to take a photo of, and I couldn’t find one on the one day that I needed one (of course). A quick Google search taught me that they are actually nocturnal, so thanks Miao for having this photo at the ready! 


On Food


Happy post-Thanksgiving! I’m a few days late, but it’s the perfect recipe for another blog post right now: it’s a time I should be sleeping (been up since 3AM…thanks jetlag!), it’s a time when I feel reflective (transitions to come), and it’s a time that I feel pretty emotional (a common side effect of visiting my family in China).

I left Dalian on Saturday evening. The previous night, after another three hours of mahjong – we’d played mahjong for hours every night for the entire week – I came out of the bathroom after having brushed my teeth to find my grandma rummaging through the freezer. It was midnight.

“Lao Lao, what on earth are you doing? I thought we said we were going to bed five minutes ago!”

Without turning her head, she explained, “Your Lao Ye said you wanted to eat ‘mian xian’ tomorrow for breakfast, so I’m looking for shrimp that he can put in it.”

Exasperated, my mom and I waited until Lao Lao found what she was looking for; we knew she wouldn’t stop until she did. Luckily, it didn’t take long – and sure enough, the next morning, the shrimp proudly topped the steaming bowl of needle noodles that my grandpa made for my last breakfast in Dalian. Despite his shaking hands and slow movements, Lao Ye insisted on cooking for me himself. He completed the noodle soup from his native Fuzhou with an egg and stuffed fishballs, the way it’s traditionally made: “My mom would make this for me every morning growing up,” he told me as I ate.


My whole life, I’ve loved food. I’m not exaggerating: this trip, my grandma recounted the story, again, of sneaking noodles to me when I was just a few months old because baby me wouldn’t stop staring at the food until she did. In Philly, I started exploring different cuisines through restaurant week; in New York, I tackled a list of 100 cheap eats; in Shanghai and Hong Kong, I photographed each mouthwatering dish; in Chicago, I even became a Yelp Elite (not anymore, since I got lazy) and used the a la card to try new restaurants.

And throughout all of those years, every time I visited my family in China, it has been the same routine: every meal is deliberately planned around what I (and my sister, and my parents) like to eat. In fact, I almost feel like I’ve been conditioned to elevate the importance of food, feeding (pun intended) my innate affinity for eating. Because my whole life, that’s also been how I’ve been shown love by my family.

Love is…

    • When my paternal grandma, Nai Nai, sent an insane amount of milk tablets back with my dad when he visited because she remembered that we loved them;
    • When my dad’s younger brother, Xiao Shu, snuck us to street vendor lamb kabobs because he knew that we were obsessed with lamb kabobs;
    • When my cousin Shan Shan takes me to hot pot or barbecue every single time I see her, laughing at how I’m a true “Liu” because of how much I love meat;
    • When my mom’s younger brother Jiu Jiu takes us to the fish and produce market every day of our visit, buying too much of everything and cooking it to perfection – better than any restaurant;
    • When his wife, Jiu Ma, stocks the fridge with ‘suan nai’ – yogurt – knowing how quickly my sister and I will devour the pouches;
    • When Lao Ye ignores Jiu Jiu’s pleas not to go out (worried about Lao Ye’s age) because he insists on taking the bus to go buy ‘dou fu nao’ – savory tofu soup – at 7AM so it would be ready when we woke up;
    • When Lao Lao climbs back out of bed at midnight to make sure that the right ingredients were available for that traditional needle noodle soup that her oldest grandchild wanted for breakfast in the morning

It’s the incessant thoughtfulness of remembering exactly which foods we like, no matter how long it’s been since we last visited. It’s the unnecessary self-denial of saving the tastiest snacks in anticipation for our visits, even if it’s six months away. It’s the insistent commands for us to take the best, biggest, last bites of every dish. It’s the meticulous effort put into finding the freshest ingredients, even if it takes extra trips to the market. It’s the loving heart put into creating each dish – from the simplest of steamed eggs to sauerkraut dumplings that are wrapped one by one – no matter how busy, how tired, how old the chef may be.

I was so grateful to spend this Thanksgiving in China with my extended family, feasting on crabs and shrimp and oysters and fish – a port city, Dalian is known for its seafood – instead of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Jiu Jiu had taken us to the market again that afternoon, buying whatever we pointed at while expertly navigating stalls for the freshest hauls. And I saw it again: love, delivered through actions, manifested through the meal on the table that evening.

Like every other time I’ve visited China, there’s a hole in my heart from just missing my family already: I hate being so far away from them. But, like every other time, I’m also so full, filled to the brim with my favorite foods and love from my favorite people in the entire world. Until next time, Dalian!


On 2018


I had a lot of plans for 2018.

Like, a lot. As in I spent an entire day in early January mapping out exactly what I wanted this year to look like; I identified my goals, planned how I would achieve them. There’s literally a page in my journal where I answered the prompt “This year will be special for me because…” with the answer, “I will MAKE IT SO!”

Well, turns out 27-year-old me was naive and optimistic, because now, one year older and wiser, I know that sometimes you can’t just “make [it] so.” Of course, I certainly tried – I advocated for myself at work and read “productive” books; I tried Orange Theory and played in a beach volleyball league; I carefully allocated my fun time vs. my productive time; I took 3 work trips and 13 personal trips, 4 of them overseas; I prioritized my grandparents, family, friends, wanting to be there for the “big moments.” In June, I even did a mid-year reflection, recognizing the goals I had achieved and renewing my resolve to work towards the rest.

And yet when I look back at 2018, it feels like none of those things mattered. Instead, it feels like the year got hijacked by this giant wrecking ball with “NAH” painted on its side in big fat letters, knocking me off my feet again, and again, and again and again and again, from different directions, in varying magnitudes, with relentless consistency.

I’m not mad about it, though. I have learned that the heart – my heart – is remarkably resilient. My parents, worried with everything that had transpired, started ending phones calls by telling me, “Stay strong.” I found that I didn’t need to hear those words, because I didn’t need affirmation that I was strong, am strong, and will be strong, and simultaneously weak and vulnerable and brokenhearted during the times I needed to be.

Because there’s no denying that there were way too many times this year when I needed to be those not-strong things. There is no staying strong in the grief that comes from the sudden and permanent loss of a close childhood friend. There is no staying strong in the helpless “why”s that permeate daily conversations with those who also love her. There is no staying strong in the pain that comes from video calling a friend in the hospital while she waits to induce her stillborn son. There is no staying strong in the terror of waiting for an ambulance, hoping to shield the baby in my arms from my own pounding heart. There is no staying strong in the devastating resolve of a decision that breaks your heart, a heart that’s been bruised so black and blue that you didn’t think it could take yet another hit.

There was no staying strong in those moments, but that’s the beauty of it: you’re not supposed to stay strong in those moments. And taking the time to live those moments, to feel them for what they are – that’s something I’m learning to love as much as I love feeling strong. I’ve begun to understand that contradictory feelings don’t have to be mutually exclusive, that it is not a zero-sum game of emotions, that you can have both, or all. It is this duality – plurality? – that I think of when I reflect on 2018: it was a year of many, many things and all of them are true, all of them are real.

I spent my mornings earlier this week run-walking by the lake, watching the sun rise and reflecting on the events that transpired this year. I took time to feel everything all over again, remembering images seared into my mind and letting them literally knock the breath out of me, still just as unbelievable and freshly painful as if they were yesterday. I’d then go home and shower, walk to work with music blasting in my ears, mulling over lyrics that hit too close to home. And then I’d walk into the office and be genuinely happy to see my friends at work, appreciating that if it was imperative for me to face the challenges of this fall, that these were damn good people to be surrounded by every day. I would feel happy, I would laugh; I would look forward to meeting friends in the evening. It is not dissonant to be both in grief and in joy, it is not fake, it is not wrong. It is life.

My old boss is always pushing me to think less, feel more; to enjoy the process instead of figuring out all the answers. I tried really hard to plan for 2018, and instead I’ve been forced to step back and live the process, at times even enjoy it. I learned this year not just to lean in, but to lean on, heavily; I learned to have grit but also grief; I learned to appreciate that I am still learning, and that is okay.

A friend shared the below with me a few months ago, and it has resonated so much; I keep thinking these words to myself. Despite everything, I still grow. I am proud of this, I am proud of myself, I am proud of this year, 2018.


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On Cancer


You know how sometimes people compare gossip to cancer? “Gossip is like a cancer, it can keep spreading until you can no longer stop it. Best to nip it in the bud and stop it while you can.”

The thing is, gossip isn’t like cancer. Because, unlike cancer, each individual has active control over working to stop the gossip. Not cancer, though. Despite your best efforts, your doctor’s best efforts, your family and friends’ best efforts – sometimes it just doesn’t stop.

Here is what I have learned about cancer so far in the last three months:

1) It is stealthy. If you’re lucky, you catch it early. But sometimes you’re not so lucky; you and everyone around you are going on through your day-to-day lives, totally unaware of this sneaky thief that is here to slowly drain you of your health and maybe even your life. And sometimes, by the time you find out, it’s too late. It’s irreparable, past the point of no return, leaving you and your loved ones and your acquaintances and your pets and your everything to face the inevitable end that has just become closer than anyone could’ve imagined. It really is sneaky, you know. How it can just be in your body without you even knowing – invasive, really.

2) It is unfair. I debated between using arbitrary and unfair, but settled upon unfair to express my distaste in cancer’s choice of victims. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s utterly unfair that cancer shortens lives unfilled. Sometimes it feels like the kindest, smartest, funniest, sweetest people have to deal with this monster. And the most patient, loving, supportive caretakers are left to pick up the pieces left in its destructive path. Even regardless of personality, everyone is someone’s somebody – and so it is unfair that cancer exists. It is unfair that a life is cut short; it is unfair that there is suffering; it is unfair that all the treatment in the world might not be enough to stop it.

3) It is hurtful. Maybe it’s weird to describe cancer as “hurtful,” as if it’s some comment that damaged my feelings, as if I feel owed an apology. But it IS hurtful: physically and emotionally for the patients, families and friends. I have watched it hurt those around me in the last three months and felt helpless to stop it. You can pay for the treatments and hope for the best, but cancer doesn’t care and will rage on, or come back, hellbent on hurting everyone in its way. You can cry, and yell, and fight with all your might, but cancer doesn’t care and will go on its selfish way, indifferent – ignorant? – to the hurt it causes. You can love someone with all your heart, but cancer doesn’t care and will crush your heart into a million little pieces, leaving only fragments made up of memories and a love that will always linger.

In the last three months, I’ve learned that cancer will kill, but that somehow, life still goes on. I’ve learned that as it strikes, it brings desperation, desolation, depression to those around it.

In the last three months, I’ve learned to appreciate life as I never have before; I’ve learned how impactful someone can be without your consciously realizing; I’ve learned that tears of hurt are born from a heart of love.

In loving memory of my paternal grandmother, my coworker (current job), and my manager (past job). 

On Volunteering


My dreams of winning $1B a la Warren Buffet’s March Madness bracket contest have long been shattered (let’s be real, was anyone really going to win that?), but I’m enjoying the madness nevertheless. Even though my picks are based on near-zero knowledge of the NCAAB, it’s fun to see the drama unfold.

Today, I came across an article about Adreian Payne, who’s a senior on the basketball team at MSU. I’ve been seeing numerous headlines recently about Payne and his special friendship with his “little sis,” an eight-year-old girl he met when the Spartans visited a hospital. The more I read about this guy, the more I tears I was choking back: how hard Payne worked to fight through his own adolescence is remarkable, but how caring this big guy is to this little girl is just heartbreakingly beautiful.

As I read the articles about how Payne always made time for Princess Lacey, and how the pair text each other, Tweet each other, and truly care about each other, I was struck by their relationship: as far as I could tell, the relationship was not driven by any sort of external factors of wanting fame or recognition on Payne’s part. Each narrative further convinced me that this was a genuine relationship, that Adreian and Lacey love each other in the purest sense of the word. And even though I don’t have a way of knowing that for sure, I’m still so inspired.

I’ve volunteered on a fairly consistent basis throughout the years at various organizations. My intentions start out really genuine: I want to help people, I want to love others, I want to make an impact. But as the weeks wear on, I find myself making excuses for why it’s okay to skip visiting that elderly neighbor, why it’s okay to cancel teaching that piano lesson. And I see in myself selfishness, lazyness, and general disagreeableness; I see my commitments as a burden, myself as a martyr. This is a pattern that’s happened to me over and over again, where I forget why I began to volunteer in the first place and feel only annoyance at the prospect of my time commitment.

I think I’m so drawn to Adreian and Lacey’s relationship because that’s precisely what it is: a relationship. He doesn’t see it as volunteerism, and she doesn’t feel like a cancer patient that’s just being visited by a celebrity making his rounds at the hospital. There are no ulterior motives behind it; Adreian is not doing volunteer work so he can put it on his resume for job applications. Princess Lacey isn’t just looking for an autograph. Because of this, it is so easy for the pair to keep the relationship going strong: theirs is a genuine relationship.

Although this fact might be obvious, I’m so inspired by its simplicity and by its message. As soon as I finished semi-stalking the most beautiful relationship of March Madness, I called up the elderly gentleman I used to visit weekly. I knew what he would say when he picked up the phone, because this is what he always says when I don’t call for a long time: “Susan! Where’d you come from? I thought you’d disappeared!” I always feel a pang of guilt when he says that because I know that he’s lonely and that I stayed away too long, but the mean part of me also feels annoyance. “I’m VOLUNTEERING my free time to come see you,” my arrogant brain thinks, “What right do you have to make me feel GUILTY for letting it be too long before I come by?”

The truth is, I let volunteerism become all about me. What had started, in this case, as a genuine desire to brighten a lonely grandma or grandpa’s life quickly grew into an act of convenience for me, rather than a genuine relationship. But I’m starting to see that humility means seeing volunteering through a new lens: eradicating that label of “volunteer” altogether and seeing, instead, genuine relationships, genuine passion, genuine caring for each other.

I’m sad my bracket is busted, but I gained a far more important lesson this March Madness. Thank you, Adreian and Lacey, for inspiring me and reminding me what it truly means to help one-another.