As social media becomes flooded with adorable photos of everyone and their mother, my calendar also recognizes another special event: today just happens to be my father’s birthday in addition to Mother’s Day. And while I love and hope to appreciate my parents every day of every year, this time I can’t help but dwell on all their sacrifices a little more than usual.

As my time in Tennessee is coming to a wrap, and the culmination of all my schooling, training, and preparation is coming to a peak; I stand at the top and look back on how far I’ve come. I’d be a fool to think I made it here on my own, nor do I think the story starts with my first step. My story is just a chapter in my parent’s greater story. And they would tell you their lives are just a tiny chapter in His greater story. So where to begin?

Both my parents are Chinese born and raised in Vietnam. This was not particularly unusual, as many Chinese families came to Vietnam for a variety of opportunities and reasons. My father was the son of a successful and reputable business owner and my mother worked at the local cafe down the street. If you’ve ever met my parents, what eventually happened next is pretty predictable. They married and began to plan a life together like anyone else, and had many advantages to look forward to. But before my oldest brother was out of his diapers, the political turmoil had reached a point where my parents knew there was no future for them if they stayed in Vietnam. Escape was the only acceptable option, but escape was easier said than done. By that time, if your intentions were known, neighbors, friends, and even families turned on each other and reported you to the authorities for a reward. My parents were one of the fortunates, my father’s side had a little gold–enough to bribe the officials to turn a blind eye to them as they snuck away with very few possessions, hopeful to reach a boat that promised to take them out of the country and to a land with opportunities now lost from their own.

I’ve always wondered what thoughts swirled in their minds as they stepped on that boat. As my mother clutched my brother and steadied herself, did she realize at that moment she was no longer a citizen, but a refugee–one of the many “boat people” as they would come to be known? Did my father think about how that step marked him as an enemy of the state and therefore forfeiting his property, his possessions, and his good reputation to become nothing but another immigrant in a foreign country with nothing? Perhaps all these things would have been forfeited under the new government regardless if they had left or stayed. But it is certain that if they had chosen to stay, they would not have faced the many trials that faced the boat people.

Thai pirates took advantaged of fleeing refugees during that time, and the boat my parents had boarded was no exception. They lost everything of value except their lives and my mother’s wedding ring, which she had tucked away into my brother’s diaper, hoping no one would think to search there. Every refugee camp they came to was a crowded mess of humanity, disease, fear, and the unknown. My brother became so sick he refused to take nourishment and my mother, desperate to do anything to make him well again bought an unknown bottle of medicine from a stranger and made him take it. For all we knew, it was just as likely to kill him than cure him, and to this day she is not sure it did any good. But he eventually pulled through, although he’s never had much of an appetite even now. The doctors who examined him in the US shortly after their arrival could find nothing wrong and pronounced him malnourished–a diagnosis even my mother could have made. Regardless, she was relieved–they had arrived to America. My parents sold my mother’s wedding ring shortly after arriving to get some food and other necessities. Thanks to the charity and outreach of American Christians, they were able to get settled and reach the few family members who had escaped a few years before them, although it would be many years before they found out what happened to all the rest of the family members who fled. Some died on the journey, some did not make it out, some have new lives elsewhere.

Together they helped my parents establish a new life of their own in America, like so many immigrants have done before and continue to do today. Most importantly, those Christians shared the love of Christ to my parents who had prior to then, faced their trials without knowing God’s peace. How hopeless and destitute their situation must have seemed without it! I will never be able to experience it for myself. By the time my next brother and I were born, they had given their lives to Jesus and we were raised to share the same faith in Christ. And so that is why my parents would say their story is only a small part of His greater story. And while their lives would continue to be showered with blessings and accomplishments, the greatest thing that came from their journey from Vietnam was the opportunity to meet Jesus on the other side.

And so at this point in my life, where I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to accomplish and begin to plan my own life ahead of me, I think about what my parents have been through. All the ups and downs of their trip to America in order to adapt to a new place, a new language, and a new culture that did not always understand or appreciate them. And I am reminded of the quote: Man proposes, but God disposes. I don’t know what my life has in store for me, but I hope that if it does not go to plan, I face it with the same courage, humility, and grace my parents showed when their lives took a turn. They never once spoke with bitterness about what they had lost or gone through. Although my mom has always been vexed that our high school mascot was a pirate. “I don’t understand why they have a pirate represent you. Pirates are bad people!” My brothers and I laughed at the notion and I still don’t have an answer to that. I am just glad our mascot does not look remotely Thai. But the fact that we can laugh about it now is a beautiful thing. My mom still to this day does not own or wear a wedding ring, even though they could have easily afforded to replace it long ago. Perhaps after all they had been through, such things no longer matter. I hope I never forget that perspective they gained, which cost them so dearly. I hope I never take for granted what amazing people my parents are and how much they love me.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom and Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you both!

So google calendar has informed me that as of today, I have been blogging for 10 years. I find it mind-boggling that 10 years ago, I was sitting in my high school webmastering class learning the basics of HTML coding. As cheesy and cliche as it sounds, it felt like magic. How could a few little words and funny brackets typed on a screen turn into a colorful, dynamic, and interactive website? I had started the blog, more as a way to practice my skills than any actual need to write (which would explain why layout changes happened more often than actual meaningful posts). Things really got interesting when I was introduced to CSS and it gave the concept of web design new meaning. I remember being in complete awe of Stu Nicholls and his css play. The things he was able to do with just css alone really inspired me to play and discover for myself what was possible. My first host was with blogspot, one of the few easy self-publishing blog sites that allowed a fair degree of customization for anyone with the desire and the ability. I had both, and it was perfect. Back then, any curious kid with a computer and google could learn more about html and web design in 3 months than they could have gotten out of any textbook published–even one that had been printed that year. It was an exciting time with new developments happening at a pace far too quick for any book to keep up with. Pretty soon I was teaching my teacher and those textbooks were abandoned and resigned to the closet of obsoletes. To her credit, she embraced it, ran with it, and really did a lot for our little class of aspiring webmasters and webmistresses.

Those were the good ol’ days of Netscape and Internet Explorer, Angelfire and Xanga, and everyone with an ounce of tech savvy had some kind of personal web presence. It was the beginnings of the online social networks that define our web experiences today, and it was a way to express yourself–your style, your passions, and your thoughts. The kind of outlet every kid should have access to during those dramatic teenage years. The need to customize the look and feel of my sites took me beyond css and introduced me to photoshop and graphic design–two things I cannot imagine myself without now. Fortunately, I had a talented friend who, like me, genuinely enjoyed creating and together we taught each other and pushed our skills to new limits. She definitely had more design talent, but I had a better feel for the function and the workings of a website, so we complemented each other and made quite the dynamic duo during our few years of collaboration. No limits, no consequences, no reason to do what we did other than for the pure enjoyment of trying. I still miss those days. :)

But the web has moved on considerably in the last 10 years, and I have not been able to keep up. Obviously my dedication to optometry takes precedence, but it still amazes me how far things have come. The internet itself has been so revolutionary to civilization as we know it, and it is exciting to know that you were there for some of the beginnings. One day I will blow my kids minds by telling them we did homework without google by looking things up in dead tree encyclopedias. In the meantime, the skills that I began learning 10 years ago have served me well, both for pure enjoyment and for life. I love designing shirts, logos, and websites for organizations and groups I’m a part of. It is something I can gladly offer to friends and family, as well as employers. And nothing would make me happier than to see everything come full circle and create a website for my own practice one day. :)

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UPDATE: While ruminating upon the last 10 years, I have decided that it was time to restart the posts. I felt 8 years worth of high school and college ramblings were 8 years too many to keep around. Therefore, you will see nothing is left from my college days and older. But don’t worry! I have not obliviated my thoughts, feelings, words, and stories from existence. No, they have been carefully exported and archived for posterity. They go to join my archives of my first two years at blogspot (ha! You didn’t know I still had those did you?). I felt it was time. Here’s to a new chapter in life, and another 10 years of blogging!

Yes, dear readers, I am still alive! It is amazing how quickly the time has flown by since my last post. Everything is still going well. Amy and I have indeed got along “swimmingly” and we have already renewed our lease for an additional year. Our landlord is still as delightful as ever, and I am very glad to know that HE is glad that we have decided to stay. You see, his original intent was to sell the house, but an opportunistic realtor and 400+ days on the market has induced him to consider renting it out in the meantime. His intent to eventually sell remains the same. However, Amy and I are so delighted with the house and the situation that we immediately set out to “win him over,” so to speak. Each month, we usually include (with our rent checks) a little card or note with brief updates about our life– ie. how school is going, plans for the garden, etc. Yes, I kid you not, we write letters to our landlord. All that is lacking is a heartwarming picture of us eating ramen on the porch and perhaps he and his wife just might adopt us for just 40 cents a day. Are you retching yet? Say what you’d like, but I think it is working.

Despite this lovely portrait I’ve drawn of two girls in a house writing letters all day, we’ve pretty much been overwhelmed by school. I’d just like to confirm that it is very true what that say, about how busy first year is. Do I still look the same? I certainly don’t feel the same. Looking back, I’ve realized just how much I’ve learned in one year and it astounds me. There were times when I was delirious from studying and all I wanted to do was just lay my head down and let my brains ooze out of my ears– as if all that newly acquired information was causing the pressure inside my head to increase. I don’t know what I’d do if my friends weren’t there to prod me along and encourage me. It is so nice to know you’re not alone and that all your classmates feel the same. But no matter how incredible it seems at the time, we get through it all in the end. But it’s not the pressure of keeping up with assignments, tests, and responsibilities that gets you down. No, it’s never that. Everyone of us has learned how to make list and get things done. No matter how many items were on there, if it had to be done, it was done. It’s all the things you can’t do. All the things that didn’t make it on the list. The people you wanted to spend time with, the groups you wanted to help, the projects you wanted to work on (*cough, blog)– all that gets pushed aside. That no matter how understanding everyone is, it still makes me sad. You always wonder, if you had managed yourself better, whether you could have got around to those things after all?

However I can’t be too hard on myself and I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t enjoying my time here. I don’t regret it for a minute, and if it wasn’t worth the sacrifices, I wouldn’t still be here. This has easily been one of the best years of my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who’s been understanding and supportive. School starts again in a week. They say 2nd year leaves you with a little more free time, now that you’ve gotten into the groove of things. Here’s to that list of things I didn’t get around to the first year!

So the farewell parties have come and gone and I am happily settled into my new home in Memphis. David was kind enough to photo/video document the final shenanigans going down in Dallas. Watching over the videos and pictures had me smiling ear to ear, and made me double check for any chocolate residue left on my glasses from Philip’s parting gesture. Lucky I knew how to take apart plastic glasses, otherwise I would not have found the little bit of chocolate on my lenses hiding out in my brown frame. Yes, it was gross. Very gross. But very memorable. Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to come out, and especially those who helped out. It meant a lot to me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better send off. Each of the gifts are slowly finding a home in the house, and fulfilling their purpose. The practical ones have been very helpful, and the goofy ones have made me smile.

Another thank you goes out to those who prayed for our house search. I feel as if every single prayer has been answered. We found an adorable house, in an awesome neighborhood, the perfect location, with an accommodating landlord, all our amenities, and within our budget! It really doesn’t get much better than that. The timing was great. In honor of National Night Out, our neighborhood association had a small potluck down the street the weekend we moved in. It is an annual event for them, and the turn out was great despite the evening heat and humidity. It was a great opportunity to meet our fellow street mates and ask around about the area as we sat outside beneath the misting fans. Our neighbors are very sweet, and they have not hesitated to offer a cup of sugar should the need arise–or butter, or milk, or flour, or pans (apparently she is caterer and is well stocked). She was probably one of the only people who cooked for the potluck. Everyone else deemed it safer to offer their favorite dishes from the local restaurants. Having just moved in, we sheepishly offered a bag of chips and dip ourselves. While not quite in keeping with the spirit of potluck, it offered an excellent taste of Memphis. The night ended with our next door neighbor dropping by with a welcoming bottle of wine in one hand. Never mind the fact he was happily sipping his own glass in the other hand at the same time. All in all, we feel pretty safe here, and that’s saying a lot for Memphis. With Amy as tour guide, we drove around midtown as she pointed out some local interests. It’s an eclectic and charming part of town–full of mom&pops, live music, local produce, antique houses, and trivia nights at every bar. Having been used to suburbia my whole life, it is a welcome change. Hopefully I’ll be able to highlight some of the cooler places here as I come across them.

Until then, the main priority is to get the house ready in time for school, and have as much fun as we can before we buckle down and begin some serious studying. Over half the class has trickled into Memphis by now, and the get-togethers have been planned at a steady rate. With every new friend I make, the city feels more and more like a home. The only thing missing now, I think, is internet at the house. We’ve been juggling the logistics of all our secondary utilities for the past few weeks, and have finally made a decision. It seems we didn’t make the decision fast enough, and internet won’t be set up until the end of the month. In the meantime, I’ve been making use of all the free wifi available throughout the city, and using my BlackBerry tether. This update has been brought to you, courtesy of the public library, main branch. Who knows where the next will come from?

So after having pimped myself out on our entering class’ Facebook group, I have secured a roommate. She likes to cook and I like to clean. Her name is Amy. I think we will get along swimmingly. The past several weeks have been occupied with finding a suitable rental house for two young ladies and a furry, four-legged friend. Or rather, her past weeks have been occupied since she is already in the Memphis area, and I’m still here in little old Mesquite. My contributions so far have been mostly yaying or naying her finds. So imagine how glad I was to be able to help when she asked me to search listings online.

Up until now we had hoped to find a good place through word-of-mouth from people she knew, or to be able to drive around nicer neighborhoods looking for “for-rent” signs. We have nearly exhausted those options either by being too late, too early, or having rejected them as too sketchy, too expensive, or too far. Being two lone females unschooled in martial arts, safety is our primary concern. Our second is to avoid a long commute to school each morning. In a city like Memphis, these two criteria alone have narrowed our options tremendously, let alone keeping it within student budgets. While we’ve been able to find a few places that fit the bill, they are far too run-down with old appliances (or lack of) to justify the asking price. I am starting to wonder if we are asking for too much. However, we still have time, and as time passes, one of our greatest enemies should disappear: the landlord unwilling to hold until August 1st for move in. We’re still hopeful, and more options may become available as students graduate and move out of the area.

If all else fails we can always rent an apartment and continue our search again later. I can’t fret too much. I know God is watching out for us. We were just on the verge of signing a lease for what appeared to be a very promising place. Just hours before finalizing things, Amy met a patient who happened to once live on that very street. On his information, we discovered that this area had frequent brake-ins from people who walk along the railroad tracks and hop the fences. She forwarded this concern with the landlord later that day and he didn’t even deny it! Talk about a narrow escape. Now we are doing triple research on the areas to be as certain as possible. Time is flying by quickly and the summer will be gone before I know it. I hope to have good news to post next time.

A new chapter in life merits a new layout, I think. I have been a rather poor and infrequent blogger in the past, but I hope to remedy that starting this fall. Because this fall I will leave my friends and family in Texas behind, and move to Memphis, TN for the next four years to get my O.D. degree at Southern College of Optometry. The acceptance is tentative, but seeing as I’ve already finished my coursework and B.S., it won’t be a problem. As long as I’m not silly enough to neglect some paperwork, and I still have a pulse and fully functioning set of eyeballs, I should be in.

At this point, I am simply very excited. As moving day comes near, I’m sure I will be sad to leave, but not right now! I have been reading the course catalog over and over like a giddy little kid. The first semester courses include physiology and anatomy, which were my strong points in undergrad. Hopefully that will help. UTA standard of education, don’t fail me now!

My first task on hand is to find a roommate or mates, and start apartment hunting. I must say, we are entering into a very curious era where looking for living partners online is normal. But you have to admit, stalking a person’s Facebook page can give you a pretty good idea of what they’re like. I shudder to think of what will become the norm by the time my own children go to college! A few people have wondered why I chose Memphis of all places–as well as concerns about the general safely. Frankly, I chose the school, not the city. It’s certainly not Dallas, but it’s got a few charms of its own. As far as safety goes, some common sense and a can of mace should do well enough. I’d like to think I possess an ample amount of both.

Anyhow, enjoy the new layout. I’ll be tweaking it in the weeks to come. I’ve purposely left a generous space for posts with the full intention of writing much and including nice, big photos. It will be a fun way to chronicle my new experiences, as well as keep you guys posted. Be excited!!