Did I ever mention that they got re-married?

My parents, I mean. After, like, a decade of divorce.

Because they sprung that on me last year while I was in California, half-heartedly trying to convince my dad that he needed to sign a Deed of Transfer because his dementia was getting severe, and it was right before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The deed signing did not go well. Why would it go well? He is the military commander, I was the little soldier; why would the roles ever be reversed? I was trying to steal from him, his words.

He also said that my “bad friend” had corrupted me, “turned me American,” and he was not going to sign any paperwork because he was still alive. He also signed my health care directive to my aunt, because he doesn’t trust my mother or me.

So, you know, in case you were wondering how my relationship with my dad is, there you are.

Did I tell you that technically that either parent didn’t tell me they were getting married until I had to drive them there? Up until that point, they both told me they had to file some paperwork - maybe I subconsciously knew, but at the time I was just assumed it had to do with property. And I guess in a warped way it does? Because when we rolled into that administrative office in Oakland Chinatown that handled services for Chinese immigrants, and the lady kicked off the conversation with, “so you’re here for the marriage license?” I just kinda sat there numb, while Mom and Dad bickered over what to put in “place of groom’s parents.”

My parents stood like ten feet apart when the Mandarin-speaking officiant came down from the eighth floor to conduct the fifteen-minute civil ceremony. My mom openly remarked that “she didn’t look like a minister,” where she was reminded twice it was because she wasn’t a minister, but an officiant, and it was a civil ceremony.

It took my dad twenty minutes to repeat his vows.

It took my mom too long to answer “I do” in Chinese.

I begged the officiant not to say “you may kiss the bride.” She did not. They did not.

As we all exited city hall, my mom bellowed in Mandarin to a crowd that no one could understand, “you BETTER put my name on everything you own now.” No one understood. Neither to my dad, because he never did. Forgot. You know, dementia.

Both have said to me, in different tones and reasons, that I was the trigger for caused all of this. Perhaps I am. I feel more exhausted than guilty.

Kareem has asked me to write a screenplay scene about it. I did a couple of weeks ago. It’s pretty funny. Maybe I’ll do something with it, someday.

So if dad doesn’t trust mom, why did they get married? So he could take care of her. His words. Didn’t want to die alone is more my guess, and no other valid options exist because of Angela. It’s the least shitty of a bunch of shitty options. Mom was having trouble paying bills because Dad had previously signed the checks. First, those checks were signed. Then they were signed in Chinese. My guess is that getting remarried was an attempt to, like, combine fifteen wrongs to desperately try to make that right.

Mom calls every day still, but she’s resentful now. She’s resentful that she has to drive dad everywhere, resentful that my aunt’s name is on legal and financial paperwork, not hers. (It’s the right decision; it’s an even longer story.) Two weeks ago, her breaking point was when her twenty-year-old dryer broke down and she had to dry her clothes on a clothesline.

Two days ago, I bought her a dryer from Best Buy, purchased from Florida, delivered to California. Yesterday, she thanked me.

Later that night, she told me the original dryer wasn’t broken after all; a fuse switch hadn’t been turned on.

Keep the change, ma.

annus horribilis

So Ernie, how was your year?

So it’s the end of 2020. Kareem’s been watching The Crown a lot, so the phrase annus horribilis comes to mind. That was the phrase Queen Elizabeth used in her Ruby Jubilee speech in 1992; I thought that was the year that Lady Diana died, but nope — it’s when Prince Andrew and Fergie divorced, Diana’s autobiography went public talking about their extramarital affairs, and when Charles and Diana got separated. I’m not really too in-the-know about my British monarchies, but it helps when your partner is an Anglophile, you’re in your forties and know just enough pop culture, and your sister declares Princess Diana “talks to her brain” on her regular basis.

It’s been a rough year for everyone. I know that. I’ve been walloped with those same challenges as well. It’s just that my problems also served with the world’s most fucked up cherry on top, and I wanted to write down all of the things while they were still fresh in my mind.

I'm also going to write down the other things that went on this year, the things that actually went okay, to try to end on a less shitty note.

A list of all the stuff that happened to me in 2020

(not including COVID or the injustice of the political shit going on in the world, and oh god, I hate how all COVID and injustice is now going to be included in any 2020 list like we couldn’t NOT notice COVID)
  • My sister stopped taking her medication, hit my parents, and went to jail for Elder Abuse. She also violated an existing restraining order Mom had against Angela the first time she hit her and everyone ignored because we are Hsiungs and don’t deal with our problems. While in jail, Angela refused to go to a mental health court, which we were all hoping she would do. (In California, patients have the right to turn down medical care.) So, after being transferred back to the criminal court system, she was sent back to my parent’s house, where my Mom has — correctly — called the cops and arrested her again. And then it happened two more times. And it is still happening.

    The only solution I can think of is “move my parents out of their house,” but having my parents move out of their forever home is going as well as telling my sister she should take her medication.

    It’s been a lot.

  • My dad’s mental state: dementia is sad and scary. He has forgotten how to sign checks in English, has called me his brother over the phone, started talking in a way where it’s difficult to understand him. Mom is overwhelmed. Both are stubborn and would rather “eat bitterness” rather than risk a new environment.

  • A couple of weeks ago, I had surgery to address a complication from a surgery, which itself was a complication from a different surgery. Hooray, being in your forties! Listen, at this point, I just want my surgical scars to not burst fluid like a Yellowstone geyser.

  • I started the year with a new job, teaching at a coding bootcamp. Through some brutal feedback, I learned teaching, like coding, is a muscle to be strengthened. For a couple of months, I worked 60-80 hour weeks just to prove naysayers wrong. My first anniversary is next week, and I already feel like I’m a grizzled veteran, the teacher you had in high school who you knew chain-smoked in the teacher’s parking lot and probably had a little extra something-something in the morning coffee thermos first period.

    But there are some things I really do like about teaching as well. We’ll see!

  • Kareem’s documentary, Mucho Mucho Amor, was released on Netflix. We went to Sundance before the pandemic hit, and while the rest of his film festival travel was canceled, he got to attend Zoom meetings wearing capes and met Whoopi Goldberg, so there is that.

    What I’m saying is that most of the good things that happened to me in 2020 actually happened to him, and I just tagged along for the ride. Holy shit, basically I’m Yoko Ono.

  • We got a cat. Or rather, a cat got us. Our neighborhood has stray cats, and while they usually keep their distance, one kitten, in particular, hung out in our front yard and greeted us. He knew he was in once we started feeding him kitchen scraps. We named him Pepperoni since that was one of the first things we fed him, but it’s Pepe for short, because Miami.

So a toast to everyone who takes the time to still read these silly little emails: thanks for being here. Thanks for being my friend, even throughout the bleak shitty moments. Here’s hoping the year is less of a garbage fire floating down the Miami River, I guess. I’m not even expecting it to be great; I’ll settle for “less traumatic.”

Here’s to you and a less traumatic 2021!

The email after the rescinded email

I’m going to stop writing in second-person, at least for this particular email.

I want to thank everyone who has sent nice notes and text messages for the newsletter I had published, then had to unpublish. A couple of people had pointed out, rightfully, that me going into vivid detail about my sister’s assault and arrest on my mother probably wasn’t the smartest move in an active court case.

That was all I was going to write. But I guess I can write some more.

To be honest, right now I’m in “can I make it to the next day” mode. I work. Kareem makes me do things, like eat. He tells me when to sleep and change out of my work clothes, and while it may sound really Sally Fields “Not Without My Daughter,” right now it all feels so incredibly necessary because I’ve been in this tunnel for a while and there doesn’t seem to be any light anywhere I can find.

Mom calls again. Up until now, it has been about conversations with a city mental health service, an Oakland-based Elder Legal Care organization and a social worker. The social worker asked me to translate their meeting. I can’t, I say to her. I explain to the social worker that while mom and I can have casual conversations there are things — terms — I don’t feel comforting translating. Terms like “district attorney,” “public defender,” or “subpoena.” Ever since Angela’s been in jail, Mom has gotten all the junk mail from lawyers. She calls every day: Is Angela getting a lawyer? Do I need a lawyer too? If I don’t get a lawyer, does that mean she’ll come back?

“The courtroom is in Dublin,” she says about her upcoming subpoena. “I need you to figure out how to get there by taking BART.” Dublin is a 30-minute drive from the house.

“Mom, stop that. I’ll call you an Uber.”

“What is BURR?”

I sigh. “A taxi, mom.”

“Ai-ya, don’t do that. Those are so expensive.”

Today, Dad is in the ER. He fell walking down the steps in front of my parent’s house, she reports from the hospital. “People tell him to use a cane. I tell him to use a cane. I had to take him to the ER. I had to carry him! He’s too heavy.”

You should find a home, I say to her. Plural you, I mean. An old folks home is what I also mean. My aunt has also been lobbying, unsuccessfully, to get the both of them moved into an apartment complex in Oakland, closer to where my aunt and uncle live. My mother hates them as much as my dad hated his in-laws.

God, they really are perfect for each other.

There’s a pause and she starts breathing heavily. “Your father doesn’t like it. He told me as much.”

“Him? Or you?”

“You weren’t there. You didn’t see them. Everyone there was old and disheveled and they had helpless looks in their eyes. Your father’s naval classmate went into a home and died a month later.”

“How do you know he wasn’t going to die already?”

In hindsight, maybe not the greatest choice of words.

“UNCLE WAN. YOU KNEW HIM.” She’s clearly at the hospital because the background noise blends in with the raised voices.

“Mom, I don’t know how to help you anymore,” I say in English.

“Then I’ll figure it out myself,” she says, and she hangs up.

At this point, I’ve pretty much accepted what will happen. My father will fall a couple more times. He will break his hip. That will be the beginning of his end. And everyone’s quality of life will take a harder tumble because we’re all too scared to find out the alternatives.

Hsiung family stubbornness will literally kill everyone in this family. Probably mine too. The difference is that I’m beginning to care less and less.

2020, Part 1

“It’s been a while,” you say to yourself. “A long while. You should probably write something, so they know you’re not dead.”

Dead. Dead. I mean, you mean, you’re dead on the inside. That’s the kind of gallows humor you’ve had lately. You don’t know how else to handle everything.


You’ve been working at an instructor at the coding boot camp for eight months now, three ten-week cohorts, about 75 students total.

It started rough, and the negative student feedback was a wake-up call that you were in way over your head. You are matched up with your two coworkers, both of whom previous public school teachers. You learn what SWBATs and CFUs are, methodologies for student engagement, while trying to cram Ruby on Rails, a tech stack you hadn’t done for a couple of years. But you don’t want to look bad — that’s losing face, after all, and you maybe three time zones away from your Chinese parents, but you will not lose face.

You work six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. You win over — or win back — every hesitant student and coworker, save for one. Can’t win over everyone, you say to yourself.

The school changes the back half of its curriculum next cohort, from Rails to Full-Stack JavaScript. COVID happens as well.

You work another sixty for another ten weeks. Your coworkers and students laugh off the exhaustion and monotony. Is this what working remotely is like, they ask? No, you say, this is what working in a pandemic is like.

Your partner’s brother, his wife, his two closest friends, and the friend’s partner, they’re all public educators, and when you bemoan the mandatory working weekend, they laugh at you. “Yep,” they all say. “That’s the life of an educator.”

But you’re a different story, and they know that, and you know that. You read up on educational videos and Coding Train YouTube playlists and research hundreds of JavaScript exercises, not because you don’t understand the content — because you do — but mostly because you don’t want to let a bunch of strangers down. Also, there’s a global pandemic. What else are you going to do, go clubbing?

More preparing for lectures. You give a pep talk to a student who’s feeling discouraged over Slack. He thanks you, feels better afterward. That’s one of the more natural parts of the job, honestly. You go back to your 100-item team kanban list.

Every once in a while, you let yourself be vulnerable and immediately regret it afterward. You’d be lying to yourself if there isn’t a part of you still smarting over that six-month job search you went through last year. You remember the well-meaning recruiter who told you you had the skills of a junior engineer when you had spent the past three years managing a team. Fuck you, Greta, you mutter to yourself. You don’t know me.

The next day you deliver a two-hour lesson about asynchronous JavaScript. You keep your self-deprecating humor to your fucked up family while answering detailed questions about the Event Loop. You look at the student asking the question in the eye, even though it’s Zoom, and no one knows any better. And when the afternoon lectures are over, you turn off your ring light and walk that twenty feet over to the bedroom for an afternoon nap. When you shut your eyes, you see the white “O” from the ring light seared into your brain.

code school

When mom called for her daily phone call a couple of weeks ago, I told my mom I finally found a job.

"Good, because I was praying for you,” she says.

Mom usually isn’t the type to pray for anyone; none of us has ever since Angela, who was always super religious, stopped going to church because “she was mechanically stuck,” her words. “God failed her” is how I chose to interpret that, just like He failed mom and dad and I. But mom’s new friend Kathleen has been taking her to church, and it sounds like she’s has been turning to religion more and more, probably as a way to find answers to problems that have no easy solutions. I’d protest, but I’m just glad she’s interacting with other people.


So yeah, I’m teaching at an eleven-week instructional course on web development at a local coding school.

People have told me that “makes sense” as a next career move, and I don’t disagree — I am big about empathy, I want to see local folks succeed. I’m warned that teaching the first cohort is the hardest. So far, that’s pretty accurate, trying to adapt the curriculum of previous instructors in my voice. I’m trying to be as eyes-open and purposeful in this position as I can, more so than I have at jobs previous.

I never thought to teach would ever be part of my career plan, but let’s be honest, I never thought I’d be moving to Miami, either.

This section was supposed to be about my last four months, searching for a job. I’ve re-written this section about five times.

I wrote about my resentment and depression, the low-key identity and career crisis, about simultaneously being proud of my partner hitting an apex of his creative career while accepting I will probably never hit the benchmarks I’ve set for myself.

All of it revisited pretty dark mental spaces, and given the first half of 2019 was also an emotional tailspin, I’m cool with not being in that headspace for a while.

But I’d be lying in saying there was nothing positive to be gained from that either. I learned a bunch about all the technologies I fell behind in the past three years. I was reminded that humans are social creatures. I tried to write a screenplay based on what happened this spring and realized that maybe that subject, in particular, was still a little too raw to write. I created this newsletter, the one you’re reading now.

“I started teaching at a code school,” I say to mom on the phone. The phrase “code school” is in English. I legitimately don’t know if she knows what a code school is, and I don’t know how to say the word “vocational.” I debate whether to use “for-profit.” I veto myself.

There is silence on the phone. Maybe she thinks I entered multi-level marketing.

“Computers,” I say in Chinese. “I teach computers.”

Mom pauses a couple of beats. “Well, I’ll continue praying for you,” she replies. “Just in case you want to find something better.”

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