Category Archives: Cross Cultural Hot Pot

Have you ever had hot pot on Christmas? I have. Is that weird? Hell no! It’s delicious. Cross Cultural Hot Pot the intersections of multiple cultures and perspectives, and the delicious results it creates.

5 Causes Asians should donate to right now

Every year there is a large uptick in charitable giving around the holidays, for many reasons.

  • Donors need to make their gifts by December 31 in order to qualify for tax deductions. It literally pays to give. So why not?
  • Retailers aren’t the only folks who need to end up in the black. Many non-profits increase their solicitations between Thanksgiving and New Years in order to close out their year positively. Maybe recently you received a direct appeal in the mail?
  • The holidays are support to be a time of goodwill and charity; perfect for supporting those less fortunate than ourselves.

This year, I decided to make gifts to the UW Pipeline Project, Jackstraw Cultural Center, and $1 to the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition. I was actually just testing their donation page to see if it worked–it did.

But with all of the worthy causes out there who need our support, which ones should you give to? A New York Times article wrote that Asian Americans tend to donate to their communities and native homeland. They are also “giving to prestigious universities, museums, concert halls and hospitals.”

Of course, not every dollar needs to go to a “prestigious” institution. There are many wonderful grassroots community organizations that need our support too. Here are five areas Asian Americans should invest their charitable dollars. Hopefully one of them resonates with your vision and values!

Youth Development

Recently arrived refugee and immigrant students experience tremendous barriers to success and self-sufficiency, including language and cultural adjustment. They are often unfamiliar with English and the American education system, which makes it difficult for them to succeed in school. As a result of these barriers, about 26% of Limited English students in the Class of 2012 dropped out of school in Washington, compared to 14% statewide. The graduation rate for this group is 60%, compared to 79% statewide.

How you can help! Donate to academic and enrichment youth programs. Look for organizations that provide culturally competent services, such as language support or honors youths’ native cultures.

James’ recommendation: My organization of course! The Vietnamese Friendship Association! Students who participate in our programs achieve one grade-level higher than their peers on math and English. Woohoo!

Civic engagement

Asian-Americans are one of the fastest growing communities in the United States according to the US Census. This rapid growth means that our impact and influence on US politics will greatly increase over time. Asian Americans have the potential to reshape the political landscape over the coming decades by continuing to exercise our voting rights, and all signs point in this direction.

How you can help! Donate to organize that promote civic engagement in the Asian American community. Although it’s a broad category, civic engagement can take many forms: voter education, get out the vote campaigns, political candidates, leadership development…just to name a few. Find one that works for you!

James’ recommendation: The Asian Pacific American Coalition for Equality (APACE) works for social and economic justice by transforming our democracy through the political empowerment of the broad API community.

Senior Services

From 2000 to 2010, there has been a 44% increase in Seattle’s Vietnamese senior population. According to the 2010 census, Vietnamese seniors currently make up nearly a quarter of the local Vietnamese population. Depression and social isolation are commonly reported among Vietnamese seniors. Perhaps most worryingly, more and more seniors are living on their own, independent from the care of their children. This is a big fat Asian faux pas (almost as bad as failing math). One time, I interpreted Vietnamese (poorly, I admit) for an elderly man and his dentist because his children weren’t there to help him.

How you can help! Donate to organizations that provide social, mental and emotional support to our seniors. Hot meal programs are very popular among Asian elders, especially if the meals include rice. Seniors also have difficulty accessing transportation, so consider supporting any programs that address this need.

James’ recommendation: Kin On! Their mission is to support the elderly and adults in the greater Seattle Asian community. They offer a comprehensive range of health, social and educational services sensitive to their cultural, linguistic and dietary needs. Plus, they host Mahjong Nights. It’s like the Asian version of senior bingo.


It is widely accepted that the United States spends more on health care than most other countries in the world. Yet we’re no better off for it. Health disparities are even greater for many Asian American communities. “But wait, I thought most Asians were doctors. What gives?” False! Language and cultural barriers prevent many Asian Americans from getting the care they need.

How you can help! Donate to community health centers. These awesome organizations offer affordable health care services to many vulnerable communities. They are usually located in medically underserved areas; places where traditional hospitals might not reach. Health centers also provide a great alternative for Asian children, who fear being coined by their parents.

James’ recommendation: International Community Health Services provides affordable health care services to Seattle and King County’s Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, as well as other underserved communities. They serve over 20,000 individuals a year!

Human and Social Services

The Asian American community has enormous, even unlimited, potential for success. Despite the “model minority myth” (flattering yet misguided, like the Kardashians) many Asians continue to face systematic barriers—economic, political, cultural, social, etc—that prevent them from achieving their dreams. For example, Asian Americans still endure ugly biases and prejudices from people who think we’re all foreigners.

How you can help! Donate to human and social services! Do not get suckered into all the talk around “efficiency” or “sustainability” or “collective impact.” While these are important, they alone don’t tell the full story when it comes to charitable giving. Basic needs are equally vital. Until people have their basic needs met, they will never be able to realize their full potential. Find an organization that provides these life-saving and life-changing services. Do it now!

James’ recommendation: The Asian Counseling and Referral Service is an organization I have tremendous respect for. They have a food bank, ethnic meal programs, citizenship classes, job training, violence prevention, and much more.


Where else should Asian Americans donate their money and time? Any suggestions? I’d love to hear where other’s are giving to this year. Leave a comment below or on Facebook. Thanks!


New Asian talk show promises to be sleazy and raunchy

The other day I was out at lunch with a couple of my co-workers. As we ate and talked, we noticed the television playing in the background. It was showing a live broadcast of The Steve Wilkos Show. For those of you who have never seen this, Steve Wilkos was the former director of security on The Jerry Springer Show. Apparently, Steve was so good at his job that they decided to give him his own tabloid talk show.

When I was in middle school, tabloid talk shows were all the rage. The show follows a simple format. A typical show begins with the host introducing a “topic of the day” and then interviewing a guest who is experiencing the particular situation. After the interview, the host introduces a second guest whom the first guest would like to confront. A fight usually breaks out—pulled hair, thrown chair, etc—and then big Steve Wilkos comes on to break it up. And sometimes, for funsies, a third or fourth guest may even come on to the show—followed by more fighting and name-calling.

Most of the episodes for these shows are staged in a way to bring out the worst in people; they are never flattering topics.

  • “Doomed Grooms”
  • “Quadruple Dog Dare Disasters”
  • “She took my man…and my car!”
  • “You ripped my hair out!”
  • “It’s the Rooster or Me!”

My co-workers and I sat there commenting on how childish, stupid and silly these types of shows are. “Why would anyone want to degrade themselves on live tv?” I asked. “Some people just crave the attention,” replied a co-worker. Then we slurped some more pho broth and kept watching. “OMG! We should start a tabloid talk show around Asian American topics!” I finally said.

I’ve previously complained about Asians lack of representation in the media. We may as well break ground on the tabloid talk show genre too. Why not? There are literally hundreds of topics we can talk about.

We’ll call it The James Hong Show; to be hosted by the famous American actor and director, James Hong. What? Did you honestly think I’d volunteer myself to host a sleazy tabloid talk show? Ok fine, I probably would. Here are some of the episodes our show will start out with.

“First born and privileged.”
This episode explores the lifestyle of first born male in an Asian family. Viewers won’t believe the lavish privileges these boys enjoy—higher pay, peeing while standing up, first dibs on colleges, and chore free living. If you think this is crazy, you wouldn’t believe what their older sisters have to say…

“English is my second language, but America is my first love.”
After spending so many years learning English and trying to fit in, Minh is rejected by her one true love, America, who is having a love affair with Canadian pop star Justin Beiber. Our guest will share her stories of love and heartache…and also have a chance to punch Justin Beiber (our surprise guest!) in the face.

“Call me submissive and I’ll cut you.”
OkCupid. Tinder. Welcome to the world of online dating, where Asian women are the most viewed, most liked, and most sought after thing on the Internet—second only adorable cat videos. You don’t want to miss what happens when these women confront the men who have been messaging them.

“I lived under the rock of oppression and survived to tell about.”
Everyone lumps Asians together within a broad “model minority” stereotype. Is helpful or harmful? We interview a group of Southeast Asians, a relatively recent arrival refugee group, how this stereotype has impacted for their lives. Their stories will shock you. Spoiler alert: There’s hair pulling.

“Crap! My parents tricked me into getting a phd.”
Think your parents are tough? Listen to the traumatic lives of three siblings whose parents coerced them into getting phds. One child went to a public university, another majored in art, and the third joined the Peace Corps. Several years later, these kids have a message for mom and dad. Special guest Steve Wilkos will also join us!

“I’m just not attracted to Asian men.”
Warning, this episode may contain offensive language not suitable for children. Nerd. Kung Fu Master. Introverted. Shy. Video Gamer. Casual. Small. Boring. Unromantic. Effeminate. Weak sauce. These are some a few of the words used to describe Asian men. Hear their side of the story, and what they wish they could say to their would-be bullies.

“I can’t breathe. Because you’re choking me you idiot!”
How do institutional biases impact the way our law enforcement and legal system treats Asian Americans? Does the model minority myth buffer them from such abuses? Our guest on this episode, Johnny Nguyen, recalls his recent brush with the law. We’re giving Johnny a chance to confront his aggressors. And then special musical guest Taylor Swift will perform her new hit “Shake It Off”!

“Where are you really from?”
We put a hidden camera on five Asian-Americans and followed them around for a week. You won’t believe the reactions they get from random strangers. What these five Asians don’t know is…we’ve invited the strangers on camera to come onto the show. We promise this is an episode you don’t want to miss.


Would you like to be a guest on The James Hong Show? Got problems with your grades? Are you biracial and proud? Are you an adopted Asian child who wants to be reunited with your birth parents? Do you secretly like chicken feet but haven’t told your partner? Email, call, or text us and we’ll schedule you onto one of our upcoming episodes.

How to explain oppression and privilege to the average sports fan

What a (mostly) great weekend for sports in Seattle! The Seahawks embarrassed the 49ers; the Huskies soundly crushed the Cougars; and the Sounders beat the Galaxy (only to exit the MLS playoffs, huh?).

Sports made other headlines this weekend too, when a few players from the St. Louis Rams walked onto the field with the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture—a prominent symbol of solidarity around what’s been happening in Ferguson. “Everything about the situation touched me because it could have happened to any of us,” said Jared Cook, St. Louis Tight End. “Any of us are not far from the age of Michael Brown and it happened in our community”

Not everyone was thrilled with this gesture though; particularly the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which condemned the players’ actions. “The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology.”

This specific example reflects the larger dialogue happening across the country. Regardless of your feelings or perspectives, one thing is clear, there’s a lot of mistrust between law enforcement, government and your average citizen. I believe part of the problem is that everyone is talking about different things. The focal point might be Michael Brown and Ferguson, but everyone is speaking from their personal experiences and frustrations, which vary considerably based on who you are and where you’re from. As I try to better understand the events myself, I realized something: Sports perfectly explains oppression and privilege.

Hear me out…


Growing up I was a relatively small athlete. I couldn’t even grow facial hair and pretty much failed at puberty. I blame it on Asian genes and a lack of calcium. I was definitely not the biggest player on the field and quite often the smallest. In fact, you might even consider me a pioneer for later athletes like Russell Wilson (5 ft 11 in) and Lionel Messi (5 ft 6 in). You’re welcome!

I made up for my size deficit by working hard, practicing, and developing my skills so that I could be a competitive player. If I couldn’t out muscle my opponent, I’d out class them. When I saw that other guys were way better at juggling a soccer ball, I learned how to juggle too. When I noticed that I couldn’t win most headers in the air, I learned how to tackle hard and low to the ground. I would play for hours until I got better.

I’ve had my fair share of wins and losses (and ties) throughout my career. By and large, the most frustrating games are the ones where it doesn’t feel like you’re playing the other team…but the referees. A game like this might start out great; things seem to be going your way. Then whoa! Out of nowhere the ref makes a bad call. “It’s just one call,” you think to yourself, “everyone makes mistakes.”

Play on. Then boom! You get tackled from behind by an opponent and the ref doesn’t call that either. Later he misses a penalty for your team. And it happens again, and again, and again. You petition the referee to call a fair game, but he doesn’t see anything wrong. And it just gets worse, doesn’t it? When has it ever gotten better? The ref starts throwing flags and cards at your team, even though you didn’t do anything. And obviously, the other team isn’t going to speak up and tell the ref to call a fair game—they are benefiting from these lopsided calls!

So what do you do? No athlete (or fan) is going to sit back and take it. Hell no! You let the referees know they’re making terrible calls. You curse at ’em. You scream at ‘em. You get in their face. And if that doesn’t work, you retaliate on the field—sometimes even off the field. If the ref isn’t going to call the fouls, you may as well break the rules too. Why not tackle a bit harder? Throw an elbow. Slide with your cleats up. Grab a face mask. Whatever! It’s all fair game at this point, right?

These situations, across any sport, are incredibly frustrating because most people walk into a game thinking they only have one opponent to play; that everything else on the field will be fair. Players are told that if they practice and work hard, they will succeed. Winners are the folks who want it more. Most people never expect they would have to play the referees too.

I had this feeling last week during an indoor soccer game. The other team was making some cheap tackles and the ref missed some pretty obvious calls. “Hey ref! You did you see that tackle? Call it fair.” Mind you, this was a co-ed, recreational indoor soccer game—we weren’t playing for a championship trophy. But both teams wanted to win, and neither wanted the referee to get in the way.

Has this ever happened to anyone else?! What did you do? Just sit back and take it? How many times have you screamed at your television because of a poor call? Remember how loud you got? How angry you were? I bet you even wished someone would punch the ref in the face. How many people have felt “robbed” after a game? (Seahawks vs Steelers, Superbowl XL).


Now imagine if this was your actual life This is how many minorities a lot of the time. We work really hard to better ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. We develop our skills and talents through rigorous practice and training, whether by getting a higher education, learning English, or on the job training.

But sometimes, no matter how hard minorities work or how much we prepare…it feels like the game is being called against us; that life is out of our control. It feels like we’re always playing from behind. And it can be a lot of different things that feel unfair, not just one: law enforcement singling out minorities; elected officials targeting immigrants; women being harassed in the work place.

When the game isn’t called fairly, is it so surprising then, at some point, people get fed up and want to protest? People want to scream at the referee and be heard, even retaliate. But in this case, the “referees” aren’t individuals—they are discriminatory laws and practices, rules and regulations that only benefit a small section of the population, and stereotypes and prejudices that devalue the worth and dignity of minorities.

This is what oppression feels like. If we can protest a football game for poor officiating, is it so surprising people want to protest for their civil rights?

And what about “privilege,” this buzzword that you hear minorities use all the time: White privilege, male privilege, economic privilege, etc. Privilege is the team who benefits from bad refereeing. They may not actively tell the ref to call an unfair game, but they sure as hell aren’t making a stink when the calls go their way either. All they have to do is remain silent and let the ref keep messing up.

There’s been a lot of talk around racial discrimination, systematic oppression, biases, and injustice lately. I personally believe the majority of people are well-intentioned and sincerely want to live in a peaceful society where everyone has equal rights and opportunity.

The point is, when the rules don’t work in sports we generally change them to make things fair so that teams can compete based on their merit and talent. This is exactly how social justice works. We want to change to rules so that everyone can succeed (or not) based on their merit and talent too.


What’s been your experience? Leave a comment below. I’d love to get everyone’s thoughts on this.

More millennials moving in with their parents; copies Asian lifestyle

I recently read an essay on CNN called “I still live with my parents and love it.” It was written by Jillian Knowles, a 27-year-old woman who moved back home with her parents shortly after she finished graduate school.

A 2012 Pew Research survey found that 3 in 10 young adults live with their parents. “The share of Americans living in multi-generational family households is the highest it has been since the 1950s, having increased significantly in the past five years.” This demographic has been nicknamed the boomerang generation, referring to the large number of young adults who move out of the family home for a time, only to move right back in.

Jillian’s essay described some of her reasons for moving back home, such as financial, and some of the challenges she experienced, like being mistaken for a babysitter. If her essay didn’t also include a photo, I would have thought Jillian was describing an Asian American experience; the only thing missing was a fight over the Sriracha sauce. For most Asians, the expectation is that children will live with their parents until they marry, purchase their own home, or the zombie apocalypse happens (then it’s everyone for themselves).

What struck me most about the essay was that Jillian framed her situation as out of the ordinary, describing the stigma attached to it. “I live with [my parents], and society should be OK with that.” While this might be true in mainstream America, we Asians have been doing it for centuries. Ironically, for Asians there’s a stigma if you don’t live at home. Even Confucius and Buddha had to move back in with their parents after years of philosophizing abroad.

In my own life, I have moved back home on two separate occasions. The first time was for financial reasons. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in 2006. That lasted about a year until I decided eating rice for every meal was driving me crazy. So I decided to join the Peace Corps and get as far away from home as possible. Ironically, perhaps it was karma, but I was sent to Cambodia, where I ate rice for every meal.

The second time I move back home was in 2010, after I returned from Peace Corps. This time my decision was because of reverse-culture-shock. After two years of living abroad I to relearn simple American things in order to survive, like English, recycling, having a Black president, and showering.

Whatever the reasons millennials have for moving back home with their parents, there are some notable similarities and differences between mainstream and Asian culture.

Saving Money / Working off debt: Jillian had $150,000 in student loans and moved back home to pay off the debt. This is also true for many Asian families. It’s pretty much the cultural norm. Asian parents view this living arrangement as a way to provide shelter for their children, giving them time to prepare for the real world. Asians are technically still a child until they’re 34. For the children, it’s a chance to save up on a down payment to eventually buy their own home—the ultimately Asian life goal. I suppose makes us pretty darn American.

Family dinners: Jillian described the “endless supply of home-cooked meals,” which is also a perk for Asians. My mom would cook dishes like congee and won ton soup—recipes that I never learned—and in exchange I introduced her to exotic foods like pizza, spicy Cheetos, and hummus. It’s really not a bad trade off to be honest.

Taking care of family: This is one area where mainstream and Asian cultures differ. Most millennials move back home because they can’t make it without their parent’s help. According to the Pew report, 78% of 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed say they don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want, compared with 55% of their same-aged peers who aren’t living with their parents.

On the other hand, in Asian households the opposite is true. Families live together so that children can support their parents. Refugee and immigrant parents especially rely on their children to support them through the retirement years; they don’t have fancy savings, 401Ks or pensions. Additionally, because of language and cultural barriers, parents often need their children to help them navigate a very complex system—whether for health care, transportation, or even the Internet.

But there’s more to it than mere dependency or even independence. To Asians, living with your parents–and supporting them–is how you show love and respect. That and buying them a new car.

Boundaries: Jillian wrote, “I am 27, and my boyfriend is 33. He is not allowed upstairs and has to sleep on the couch if he stays over.” Wait, you mean your parents know you have a boyfriend and they still allowed him to enter their home? Weird. We usually skip out on telling our parents and make up an excuse like we’re studying late at the library.


There are many reasons why millennials would choose to move back home with their parents—all of them perfectly reasonable. But let’s face it, Jillian’s story would not be a big deal if she weren’t White. The truth is, her story has already been experienced by thousands of Asian Americans. Most of the time, we tell these stories to scare our friends. “Dude, I moved back in with my parents and now my mom wants me to rub a coin on her back. Eeek!!!”

While millennials may think they’ve discovered something new and trendy, the bottom line is Asians have been doing this exact same thing for a very long time. For us, moving back in isn’t the problem, it’s figuring out how to move out!

So quit copying our stuff and thinking you just “discovered” it. You already stole coconut water and yoga. Boomerang generation? Ha! Let’s call this what it really is—Asian style.

How about everyone else out there? Do you have experiences moving back in with your parents? I’d love to hear it!

Boooo! Why everyone is terrified of Asian Americans.

One of the things I enjoy doing most on Halloween—aside from getting free candy and jumping out at people as they walk through a door—is watching horror movies. Recently I’ve noticed a pattern of Asians being portrayed as terrifying creatures in many of these movies. If you watch any sci-fi, action, or horror movie, chances are there is at least one scary Asian person wrecking all kinds of havoc.

Admittedly, said Asian character usually ends up dead when the movie is over, but that’s beside the point. They are still terrifying nonetheless. It made me wonder, what about Asian Americans that scare people so much—aside from our driving? Just kidding (but seriously, if I didn’t say it, someone else would have).

We’re the fastest growing voting bloc in America.

The Huffington Post reported that “Asian-Americans are now the fastest-growing racial group in the South and thus an increasingly important voting bloc in the region.” Policy.Mic writes that the “Asian American electorate is expected to double by 2040.” This rapid growth ultimately means a larger impact and influence on American politics. Asian Americans have the potential to reshape the political landscape over the coming decades by continuing to exercise our voting rights, and all signs point in this direction.

Why it’s so scary: While the United States benefits from greater civic participation overall, those currently in power—our elected officials and politicians, mostly all White males—risk losing their mandate and positions unless they can learn how to authentically, and effectively, engage with the Asian American community (and other minorities). As it stands presently, not many do. Fear not though! Increasing political power for minorities doesn’t have to be a scary thing. We’re not forcefully taking it away from other people. Rather, it means we now have more opportunities to empower and lift up more people than ever before.

We speak many languages, including English.

Surprise! Didn’t see that coming did you? Bet you thought Asians only spoke Chinese, Vietnamese…or some form of “ching chong chang”. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but most Asian Americans speak English…followed by Spanish…and then probably French. What? Those were the only languages school ever taught us! Yes, many of us do speak our native Asian languages, but unless these languages and cultures are recognized, valued and preserved, we may end up losing some of the best parts of our history and heritage. In the quest to becoming more American, we shouldn’t have to become less Asian.

Why it’s so scary: Even though Asian-Americans have been living here for over a hundred years, there remains a wide spread perception that we are foreigners and don’t belong in the United States. These negative stereotypes create an environment that makes it easy to sling hate at Asians. Unfortunately, a few people (thankfully not too many) think English is the gold standard; other languages tarnish this image. But if America truly is a melting pot, then English is just another ingredient—along with gluten free cheese and organic strawberries.

We’re in your face more than ever before!

Asian Americans haven’t had a strong presence on mainstream television. Usually, Asian guys are portrayed as comic relief and Asian women are overly sexualized. When these images–though fictional by design–continue to portray Asian Americans through a single lens, it fuels the perception that we’re flat, one-dimensional creatures. But I’m encouraged and optimistic about some of the new, upcoming television shows that portray Asian Americans in a different light. Fresh Off the Boat is an American comedy based on the life of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, and Selfie is a romantic comedy featuring John Cho (hint: Asian dude from Harold and Kumar and the new Star Trek). And who can forget fan favorite Glen (whose real name I don’t know) from The Walking Dead. He’s given hope to all Asians that we too can survive a zombie apocalypse (or a B in math).

Why it’s scary: Change can be frightening. For folks not used to seeing Asians as funny, cool, or even real, this could figuratively blow their minds and literally alter their perceptions of Asian Americans—forever. Once it happens, it can’t be undone.


As you can see, Asian Americans truly are terrifying, but not because of our menacing squinty eyes, bone crushing kung-fu skills, and ear piercing tonal language. These negative perceptions have been used by other people to to define what Asians ought to be. The fear only serves to create distance and mistrust.

As the Asian American community continues to learn, grow and mature, we’re realizing that we no longer need to hide behind someone else’s mask. We’re no longer satisfied with letting other people tell our story or take away our voices and rights. We’re feeling more comfortable and confident in our own skin (doesn’t mean people can still wear our culture like a costume). So the next time you see a scary Asian person in a movie or on tv, just remember that the most frightening thing we can possibly do to you is vote on taxes, support immigration reform and menacingly add MSG to your pho when you’re not looking. A second is all it takes…

Moving in with your partner? Don’t forget to tell your parents.

Jennifer, a dear friend of mine, recently told me that she was considering moving in with her partner. I interpreted that to mean they were willing to wake up to each other’s morning breath and put up with dirty laundry…day, after day, after day. I can barely look at my own face in the morning (for much of the day in fact) so I’m not quite sure why anyone would willingly do it with another person.

Nevertheless, cohabitation has become increasingly common for the average American couple. “In 2011, the Census Bureau reported 7.6 million opposite-sex cohabiting couples in the country with a separate report listing the number of cohabiting same-sex couples at 514,735 as of the 2010 Census” (as reported by Wikipedia). No big deal, right? Right?

Wrong! A big fat WRONG!!! It is a big deal because most life decisions for Asian-Americans need to be run through our parents first. Jennifer is Vietnamese. Her plan was to introduce her parents to Steven, her boyfriend, over dinner. She was nervous about telling them what was on her mind. Why? Before I answer my own question, let’s take a step back.


When I lived in Cambodia you couldn’t even hang out with someone of the opposite sex without a third party to chaperone. It’s like the Holy Spirit was busy that day and someone else needed to sub in. “Sopha, eat rice already?” That’s how it would translate from Khmer. “Do you want to have lunch together?”

“Ok. Let me see if my extended family is free to join us.”

“What a delightful idea Sopha! Your family can observe our strictly plutonic and professional lunch to make sure there are no improprieties.”

Can you imagine what moving in with someone must take? There are a lot of social norms that guide dating, romance and marriage in many Asian cultures.

  • No kissing;
  • Don’t hang out alone where no one else can see you;
  • First dates are also the last date, then you marry;
  • Wedding first, house second, kids third;
  • Absolutely no living with the opposite sex before marriage.

There’s no simple explanation for why these cultural norms exist; it dates back many centuries and is very complicated. At the most basic level, Asian cultures see the realms of men and women as uniquely separate. Sometimes this comes out in really charming ways, like when my dad is expected to buy the car so that my mom can drive it (works out great for her). Other times, and quite commonly, things don’t go so well and women are oppressed and abused. They’re expected to run the house and raise the children while men can go off and get drunk. It’s basically Sunday Night Football every single day.

I admit these are extreme examples, but they illustrate why it’s hard for young Asian-Americans (man or woman) to cohabitate. Cultural norms are deeply ingrained into our thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes, we don’t even recognize it, and it may be difficult for other people to understand.


“My parents prefer that I marry a Vietnamese guy,” Jennifer said. Steven is White. For younger Asian-Americans, not a big deal at all. But I think Jennifer’s parents, along with many refugee and immigrant families, are concerned about the perceived language and cultural barriers.

“So how did it go when you told them you were thinking about moving in together?” I asked.

“Not good at all.” Apparently, Steven offered to cook dinner for everyone but her parents insisted on bringing something instead. It was a trap; her parents secretly wanted Steven to cook anyways because it’s a sign of being a good host. That never happened though. It was totally awkward and uncomfortable. Perhaps out of frustration, or maybe even disappointment, Jennifer’s mom finally suggested they just order pizza. For anyone not familiar with Asian culture, try to imagine the inverse scenario—going to a Chinese restaurant in New York City on Christmas. Alone. Get it now? It’s that bad.

I felt terrible for Jennifer and Steven and pondered what I would have done in their situation. If anyone is thinking about telling their parents they are moving in with their partner, here’s some advice that may help.

1. Don’t ever tell your parents you’re going to cohabitate! Just kidding. I’m a firm believer in having an open, honest and direct conversation with your parents about this important life decision, but you may have to massage it a bit. Reframe the news so it appears to benefit your parents too. “Mom, living together may actually improve my GPA and future earning potential. By sharing the cost of rent, I can save money now and invest that into a PhD program. I’ll become a doctor, and then both of our dreams will come true!”

2. Tell your partner to bring fruit. I’m dead serious. If your partner wants to show respect, they need to bring the gift of fruit. Mandarin oranges (cuties), mangos and pineapples are extremely popular choices. A cutie tells the parent, “I was at the grocery store and thought of you,” while a pineapple says “I could be your future son-in-law.” Choose wisely, but don’t go overboard. A single piece of fruit will go a long way. Trust me.

3. Take it one step at a time. I’ve learned many Asian parents need to take news in small doses. For example, before I began my career in non-profit, I joined the Peace Corps so that my mom would get used to the idea that I’d never make a doctor’s salary. The same applies to living with your partner. Talk about how expensive rent is, how you feel lonely at night, how the noises outside your window are terrifying, how cooking for one person is so hard, etc. Then break the news that you’re moving in with your partner. Of course, the potential risk here is they want you to move back home with them. Don’t do it!

4. Whatever your parents say, do the opposite. In Jennifer and Steven’s case, when her parents said they didn’t want Steven to cook dinner, it actually meant they did. Asian parents are tricky like that; you have to read between the lines. “Sweetie, I don’t care if you have children or not.” Translation: They expect 10 grandkids. “Being a social worker is a wonderful profession.” Translation: You are a failure and we need to boost your self-esteem before we crush it. “You and Steven should definitely move in together.” Translation: You two will live in our house and Steven will have the downstairs guest bedroom, far away from you.

5. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Finally, sometimes it takes a little finesse; give and take. Think about what you’re willing to give up in order to get what you want. “Look mom and dad, if you let me and Steven move in together right now, one of you can live with us after you retire.”

“Hmmm, you drive a hard bargain, but I dunno honey.”

“Fine, both of you!”



When I later asked Steven about his experience, he said “I feel like I was set up for failure.” It was rough, but I really admired what he said next. “I’m trying to put myself in her mom’s shoes. They just want the best for their daughter, ya know?”

Relationship advice for Asians (everyone else benefits too)

This past weekend I was invited to give a workshop at the Northwest Vietnamese Student Association Summit. The Summit is a regional gathering of young, emerging leaders from the Vietnamese community. They come from all over the northwest, from California and Portland up to Canada. My talk was called “Relationship Building for Dummies: Why you’re wasting your time networking.” It focused on the differences between relationship building and networking, and how to strengthen authentic, positive professional relationships in your own life. Here’s a summary of my talk.

Why Networking is stupid

Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? The idea is that you need to quickly and clearly introduce yourself in the time it takes to ride an elevator from one floor to another: “You need me; let me tell you why.” Elevator pitches embody just about everything I dislike about networking.

The problem is that networking is “me” based. “There are five reasons why I’m awesome. One, decisive. Two, intelligent. Three, I’m good communicator. Four…” *ding ding ding* The elevator doors slowly open. “Ah dang it, wait. Don’t leave. I haven’t told you about reasons four and five! Can I get your number?”

Networking focuses on short-sighted, immediate goals and very often results in superficial, fleeting relationships. Think about all of those speed-dating events or job fairs you went to—how often did you actually follow up with the people you connect with? People who rely on networking focus too much time and energy getting their names out there, rather than genuine relationships with the people around them.

Focus on building, deep, authentic relationships

Relationship building, as opposed to networking, focuses on two-way, reciprocal connections. It carefully builds a partnership based on give and take…kind of like marriage. In fact, you should just pretend like you are married to the other person–cook them dinner, clean their floors, watch their children, etc…

Developing authentic relationships between people is critical to success. The word authentic is extremely important because people rarely communicate authentically. Relationship building isn’t about being fake, dishonest, or self-serving. Instead, it focuses on how you could support others, not what they can do for you. In order to have a friend, you need to be a friend.

How to connect with new people

Get an introduction: It’s really awkward to go up to someone you don’t know—so avoid it if you can. “Hello. You don’t know me, but my name is James. Sorry, my hand is kind of wet. I was just in the bathroom but don’t worry, I washed them.” Be honest, you’ve all probably been in either side of that scenario—it’s about as comfortable as an Asian parent saying “I love you.”

Use introductions instead. Introductions are a powerful way to connect to new people since it stems from a foundation of trust. If you ever find yourself where you don’t know many people, ask a friend or co-worker introduce you to people they know and go from there.

What happens if I don’t know anyone? Very rarely will you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know anyone (maybe if you were in North Korea). In general, chances are good that you know at least one person—whether it’s a school event, a job, or a community gathering. Use that!

Find common ground: Have you ever met someone new and you simply didn’t know what to talk about? Think about how awkward and uncomfortable that was. “Hi, I’m James. Do you like the Seahawks? You don’t like the Seahawks!? WTF is wrong with you? Well what do you like? Baseball? I hate baseball.” This is a common networking trap. Genuine dialogue occurs when you both discuss shared interests. Otherwise, one of you will be bored out of your mind.

Communicate in a way that is culturally appropriate: Be mindful of your audience. Know that people come from diverse backgrounds; you need to communicate in a way that is respectful of that. “But where are you really from?” is what you should not say to an Asian person. Trying to piecemeal together a sentence from using someone’s native language is also rude (unless you actually know their language). Making comments about a woman’s intelligence or appearance is also an invitation for trouble. “I was just joking! Don’t take it so seriously.” Relationship building is about mutual respect, so spend less time trying to be funny and more time being real (unless your real self is a jerk, then just stop and walk away).

How to gracefully end a conversation

Ending a conversation, especially with someone you don’t know that well, can be extremely difficult. It’s kind of like saying goodbye to someone, and you both start walking off in the same direction. Awkward! The best way that I have found to gracefully end a conversation is to “pass it on.”

  • Step 1: Introduce your new friend to someone else you know. ““Rachel, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Michael?”
  • Step 2: Establish common ground for the new couple; something simple goes a long way. “You two actually both studied psychology in undergraduate. What are the odds? Two Asians and neither was pre-med.”
  • Step 3: Carefully remove yourself from the conversation. “Why don’t you two talk more about the brain and I’m going to grab us another drink” or “Would you two excuse me? I need to use the restroom. Keep talking though!”

In this example, notice we use the power of introductions to our advantage; in this case, to gracefully and politely end a conversation. Secondly, by pre-establishing common ground for your two friends, you’re giving them something to talk about. This makes it easier for you to step back.

What happens if they hate each other? Use your best judgment. Connect people based on their common ground. If you have reason to believe two people are going to hate each other, don’t introduce them. Pretend like you’re setting up a friend on a blind date—the same rules apply.

Why you must always follow up with people

The biggest mistake most people make is trading long-term success for convenience and immediacy. “This person isn’t worth my time anymore” or “He’s not interesting enough to stay in touch with” or “She’s weird, I don’t want to follow up with her.”

Following up with people is extremely important! It’s how you keep relationships alive and healthy. The truth is we don’t know where people will end up in one year, five or ten, so we shouldn’t get in the habit of trying to pick winners and losers in our relationships. Everyone should be worthy of our time, attention and support. This is why follow up is critical to strong relationships.

What do to with business cards: In the age of smartphones, business cards still rule the professional world—kind of like how email is still top dog despite Facebook and Snapchat. Most organizations and businesses give their employees thousands of business cards, which most of us don’t know what to do with. So we shower people with cards wherever we go. “You get a business card. You get one too!” Give ‘em to your friends. Trade ‘em with your parents.

My general rule of thumb whenever you get a business card (or any type of contact information) is to follow up within 24 hours. Why 24 hours? Because it’s timely and better than 3 days or 1 week. And for goodness sake, just keep it simple. There’s no need to follow up with a lengthy essay–keep it Twitter length. “Hi Michelle. It was nice meeting you yesterday. I really enjoyed our conversation together. I hope we can stay in touch.” Short and simple.

One last note about business cards: It helps to make notes on the back of cards to help you remember who you talked to. That way, when you follow up with them it doesn’t sound lame and generic.

The big take away

I think we often get networking and relationship building mixed up because they both inherently deal with our connections to other people. But networking has become a game where we calculate the most gain with the least amount of effort. Don’t fall into that trap. Focus on building authentic relationships with the people around you.

Now, I’ve said all I have to say about this. So who wants one of my business cards? Seriously, I need to get rid of them. I have over 600 left! So…the first 600 people to like this post or comment will get a business card, autographed by me!