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The Girl at the Cashier


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The "Wu Word" Blog


I fell in love with games and gambling at around 10-years-old. 
Card games: War, UNO, Poker, and Spit.  Board games: Monopoly and Outburst.  But, the game I loved the absolute most was Mahjong.   My grandfather and cousin taught me how to play the game.  We used to gamble with pennies and food.   The clickety black of the shiny ivory blocks as they smacked against each other and as we stacked them and then flipped each block out to play our hand was adrenaline-rushing and thrilling.  Bamboos.  Circles. Chinese numbers.  Take up a block.  Give up a block.   Someone could take or ignore your block.  Poker faces.  Match.  Strategize.  Think hard.  Maybe a little luck if you are lucky enough.  Until you got your way.  Until you win.  Win big. 
In my immediate family, I was the only one who like to gamble and play games.  Outside of my immediate family and among all my relatives, just about everyone loved and did play a good and rousing game of mahjong except for my aunt.  I thought this was odd, though, because my aunt was somehow always gambling or bargaining in life.  I still remember us snaking our way in the overly crowded and steamy streets of Hong Kong with my aunt and another aunt (in Chinese, or maybe it is in my family, we call just about everyone aunt) haggling with the store owners and store keepers to try to talk down prices of items that they really wanted to buy.  I’d watch my aunts completely mesmerized and confused with this one question blinking brightly in my mind over and over: “If they really want it, then why don’t they just buy it at the set price instead of fight it?”
As I got older and particularly on a trip to China, I turned red in the face with embarrassment when my aunt was snapping at this storeowner to talk down a price on this pink hat that I really wanted.  She turned her back. grabbed my arm to drag me away, and said in a clipped and no-nonsense voice: “Now, we walk away.”
I hissed, “But why are we walking away when I really want it?  Why is it always a fight and bargaining?  Why can’t you just accept it as the price it is?”
“Wanting it and meant to have it are two separate things.  You have to be willing to walk away and lose.   Wait and watch.  Listen and learn,” she whispered back.
Moments later, the store owner threw up his arms and spat off that he agreed to the price that my aunt agreed to.  I got my pretty pink hat that people shower me with praise that I look that like a happy strawberry shortcake when I wear it.  I could not believe that my aunt had talked down the price to that low.  I could not believe that she had gotten her way.  I could not believe how much I loved this pink swirled hat from China.  I was curious and utterly fascinated.   I was speechless.
I opened my mouth to ask my aunt how she did that.  Her painted red lips curled upwards in a smile.  Her eyes sparkled.  She nodded.  I paused.  Without her saying anything, I think I understood: “Wait and Watch.  Listen and Learn.”  I pondered about my family upbringing with mahjong as a staple game that we played out of family fun and my aunts who did not always accept what was told to them and they, instead, told others how it is to be.  In each of these ‘games,’ you had to learn to lose AND be completely fearless to lose.  You had to be unafraid to walk away and leave if the terms that you put out there were unaccepted for what you deemed as worthwhile.  You had to put yourself out there and make your terms known and clear without budging, but bend if needed.  Think carefully and strategize without over analyzing.  Trust in yourself and in the wise risks and stakes and take ownership for the winning and the losing.  Walk away when it was at the best peak and when timing was just right to be satisfied, but not and never greedy, with the winnings rather than the losings.   The name of the game: To win AND win big, you had to be willing to lose AND lose big.  Maybe the key to winning is the acceptance of losing that brings out our humility, humbleness, and abilities to keep on trying and going without losing our tenacity.
Losing holds just as importance than winning.    When have you lost?  Are you a risktaker?  Do you bargain and try to negotiate to get your way?  Is what you deemed as losing REALLY a loss?      
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 

Breaking Bad

Years ago, I befriended a young lady who was fresh out of college.  She seemed timid, uncertain, and eager to please anyone and everyone.   In many ways, I felt like a big sister or mentor to her more than anything else.  Around this time I befriended her, I told her about my newest and latest project called “Live List.”

“Oh, bucket list?” she asked.

I paused.  “Hmm…I guess you could call and consider it a bucket list, but I do not like to think of myself doing these things because I am afraid of death.  I like to think I am doing these things to embrace life and to be and live in all these great and amazing moments in life.”

I then began to run through the list with her: “Go on a hot air balloon ride.  Go to an opera.  Go to a baseball game.  Travel the world.  Learn to ride a bicycle.  Fall in love.”

She paused and then said, “I think you suffer from FOMO.”
I was intrigued.  I never heard the acronym ‘FOMO.’ I was usually the acronym creator, but here there was this young person (at least ten years younger than me) giving me a lesson in acronyms.

“What’s FOMO?” I asked.

“Fear of Missing Out.” 

I thought about this acronym and then asked: “Is that a bad thing?”

She shrugged, “No, I guess it isn’t.  But, isn’t fear of anything a bad thing?”

I thought about this ‘FOMO’ acronym.  I thought about fear.  I was all too familiar with fear.  Probably my greatest fears being that I did not do what I wanted to do and I did not live my life the way I was meant to live it before I died.    Yes, I certainly do know it seems odd for someone of 37-years-old or even younger at that time of creating my ‘Live List’ to think of ‘before I died,’ but the truth is that the only way you come to appreciate the value and the gift of life is when you are on the brink of death yourself or when everyone around you ends up in the clutches of death.  I know that sounds dismal and depressing, but I like to think of knowing about the reality of death forcing us to live life as light to the darkness and life and death being in each other’s company kind of cool with each other. Over the years, I had went on to fulfill as many of my ‘Live List’ items as possible.   To fulfill these items, I had often run myself ragged until I burnt out.  Often, I would spend so much time planning and preparing for one of my ‘Live List’ items that I ended up stressed.  I also did not know my boundaries and limitations because of FOMO.  No matter how many people would like to say that we are limitless and can do anything and everything, I have to come to realize that this is NOT true as we get older.  We all have our boundaries and limitations, and that is just as important as knowing to push the boundaries and limitations without detriment to ourselves.  It is a fine line.  I do not know how to sit still.  I do not know how to relax.  I do not know how to do nothing.   

Then, it dawned on me that, yes, that young lady from so many years ago was right.  There is a downfall to FOMO.  There is a negative twist to FOMO.  You will plot, plan, and do everything intended for a single FOMO moment that you are living for or that you make out to take your breath away that you are missing on all the seemingly simple ordinary minutes and moments that can mean the most and bring the greatest treasures and pleasures.  Worst of all to FOMO is not being present.  I have now realized that there are many moments that I may have missed out on all because I was hung up and giving in to FOMO- Fear of Missing Out.  This realization is HUGE to me.  I have spent the vast majority of my life trying to “seize the day” and “live in the moment” only to see a different side that maybe I have not been doing this.  People have said to me time and time again that I need to slow down, take it easy, pause, and be present.  Heck, I have even said this to myself.  But, now it is REALLY time to ‘break bad.’  I need to.  I have to.  Or I will burn out and run out as a result.  This has then made me contemplate about our ‘bad’ habits and ways, imperfections, resolutions, and actively trying to change or tweak ourselves to be better.

January is almost over with.  We are well into the 2020 year.  I have asked many people about what their resolutions are.  Many have said to me that they do not make any because they cannot keep them.  I think the greater question and quandary is if people realize what their weaknesses and ‘bad’ are to try to overcome and ‘bread bad.’  We are creatures of habits.  We get so wrapped up in our days and ways that it may reach a point that we break and have to, in turn, break these bad habits.  I cannot say that I am making a resolution.  I can say that I am trying to be better and the only way for me to be better is awareness of my ‘bad’ to then try to ‘break bad.’ I can say that I am now very well aware of my imperfections and flaws that can be hurtful to me and to others that I have to try to change for the better. It does not have to be in big ways.  If anything, what I have learned in life is it is always the little ways and little things that lead to the most. 
We are creatures of habit and flawed humans with bad habits that need to be broken.  What bad patterns, vicious cycles, or bad habits do you have?  Were you aware of how debilitating they were so that you had to change?  What did you do or are doing to make a conscientious effort to change?  

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)


I come from a family of poets and painters.  My paternal grandfather encapsulated both painter and poet to the fullest effect.  Back in the 1990’s, my grandparents lived in Canada.  My grandfather’s paintings and poems were so important and ingrained in him that he had a sunroom with minimal closed walls and maximum glass windows.  The windows were so spotlessly clean that Mother Nature herself in all her glory of sunshine and blue skies along, gloomy beauty of rain, and purity of snow was so clear that you could almost feel like you were outside.  He had a table of paintbrushes and thick paints.  He showed me these paintings against the dramatic backdrop of Mother Nature and would say, “You will see the paintings best in the light.”  My aunt was also a painter.   I remember him and her showing me their Chinese paintings that had dark colors and multitude of mountains. 

I also come from a family of writers and rebels.  At a young age, I learned meaning of “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword.”  I learned how stringing and forming certain words had the power to hurt or heal.  I learned that words could form and create magical and memorable stories of our lives to share and speak out to others.  I was taught to fight for what you believe in even if you are in the lonely minority because living a life of personal truth, morals and principles held the greatest meaning than to live a life unlived and not meant to be that was actually the saddest life there can possibly be.  I came to believe that timing is everything in life, and that it is most important to pick battles in order to win wars.    

Growing up, I always considered myself a writer.  Never an artist.  My aunt enrolled me in a drawing class when I was living with her one summer.  I learned how to draw flying birds and buck-toothed bunnies.  I was bored in those art classes.  It was not until I was in high school and then in college that I fell in love with clay and ceramics.  There was something about the feel of the clay in my hands.  With my hands, I had the power to build, mold, and really create anything and everything. All through college whenever I was stressed from a brain draining psychology class, I escaped to the chilly ceramics room to pound and punch clay to form something.  Really Anything.  It was fun.  It was invigorating.  It was empowering.

Recently and completely unexpectedly, I stopped by at a pottery place just to check it out for grins and giggles.  I joined a bunch of strangers on a Friday night that had tons of free food (you can always get me to go somewhere if there is food and especially if it is free) and shelves and shelves of beautiful and whimsical pottery pieces.  Plates.  Bowls.  Cups.  Cute figurines.  All these pieces were meant for serving, supporting, or just bringing a big smile.  The name of the game was that you pick a piece, paint it, and wait at least a week to find out how the piece turned out.  That night, I listened to many of these ladies fretting over what paint colors to choose from and saying, “Oh, this is so stressful and I do not know what I am doing!”  I could have chosen any piece.  There were a large variety of colors to choose from.   However, I stuck with a simple vase and the four paint glazes they had to offer.  I wanted to keep it simple.  Simple is usually better.  Less is more.  I listened to these ladies’ conversations with a lazy ear as my main interest and focuses that night were the cheese and crackers and just shutting down my mind down to paint.  No thinking.  Only painting.  Without even thinking and me keeping uncharacteristically quiet, I painted. 

I was the first one to finish painting my piece and leave that pottery place on that night.  I was probably also the first one to pick up my piece a week later.  I was completely pleasantly surprised at my very first painted vase that was decked out in warm cinnamon brown and cool teal.   I was shocked at how the colors I had painted on had been supposedly muted and boring before going into the kiln, but actually came out in brighter than ever with a shiny and glossy sheen.   I was hooked.

Since then, I have painted a bowl and three plates.  I had a blast with three plates, but one plate was annoying and getting me frustrated, impatient, and mentally challenged with the art of symmetry versus asymmetry.  The only wiring in my mind when I am about to paint are the colors I will choose and the extra design I might make, whether it be dots, stripes, or even bubbles.  Each time I have had to hand in a piece to be put into the kiln, I have no clue how the piece will really turn out.  I have no idea if the colors will really mesh and matchmake well together.  I also must wait at least a whole week to see the final product in all its painted glory.    I have realized that this whole process of picking a piece, painting it, and waiting on the final product is so much like life.  There is so much that you can or do put out there, do or even overdo, and then you have no choice but to patiently wait on the results meeting and matching what you put out there.  You can do everything and everything you do still will not be good enough.  You can try your hardest and your best and none of these is good enough.  There are times in our lives that are dark or a completely frightening stark white and blank canvas that you have no clue what to do or put on only to find it in you to make your own canvas and bring colors and light back to your life and canvas.  You can only hope for your faith and patience to get you through that waiting time for what you waited for to be and meet what you originally hoped for. 

A vase, three plates, and a bowl later,  maybe I would have to say that I am merely a humbled artist full of poet, painter, writer, and rebel—all coming from my family.  The time I paint is my quiet time.  My quiet time for my mind, However, it has also been my time of bringing colors back to the stark white piece AND colors back into my mind and life.  I came to terms that this 2019 was one of the most challenging years of my life.   I have and am still making my peace with 2019.  I am ready to leave 2019, but, more than that, I am more than ready to embrace 2020 and bring the brightest of colors back to it that were muted and faded in 2019.   It is fun.  It is invigorating.  It is empowering.
It takes quite a lot to bring hope, light, brightness, and, indeed, colors back into our lives during our darkest and most difficult and challenging times.  When did your life maybe seem black and white?  Where do you escape to that brings you comfort, joy, and, maybe, just maybe quieting your unquiet mind?  What did it take for you to bring colors back into your life?  How have you or do you bring colors into your life? 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,



Two years ago, I learned that one of my relatives was diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer.  It was determined that he was terminal and probably would not make it past Christmas.  I was never particularly close to this relative, but terminal illnesses do a twisting kind of thing to the mind that make you remember the moments where you were close and could have been even closer. So, the memories played like a movie reel in my mind of when this relative lived with my family and I and I tormented him as a bratty child bugging him to play games with me. I remembered being given the responsibility of his flower girl in Hong Kong in a puffy pink dress.  I remembered my Dad and me spending the entire day with him and his wife out at Universal Studios in California in the beaming sunshine and daring each other to go on the fastest and wildest of rides.  Even more so, terminal illnesses back you in a corner making you think that you lost the chance to be closer so you try to make up for the perception of loss by making as many moments and memories to hold on to just before that person is no longer here on earth.  So, that is exactly what we did.   To make new memories to remember and hold on to, my family and I jetted off to California to visit this relative and his wife for what was deemed by doctors as his last Christmas. 

I had heard that he was going bald from the start of treatments to try to combat the cancer.  I knew exactly what I wanted to get him for Christmas; A handmade hat from one of my friends who was famous for her knitted hats from the thickest and finest of yarns.  After much decision with my hat lady friend, I finally decided on a swirl of colors thick hat for him to keep his head warm and spirits even warmer and more hopeful. 

Our first stop in sunny California was to see him and his wife.  In a stark white room that was badly in need of color, personality, and light, we all crowded and stood like soldiers encircling him.  We hugged his thinning body.  We plastered on bright smiles.  We took pictures. We filled up the awkward pauses with laughter, jokes, small talk, and really anything and everything that did not touch terminal illness with a ten-foot pole.  I gave him the hat.  He bony fingers brushed mine when he grasped on to it.  The hat was too big for him, but he dutifully put it on to try to please me and everyone else. 

Before we left, we all lifted up our filled up plastic cups to wish each other happiest of holidays.  I rang out: “Cheers!” 

Everyone beamed with big smiles and his smile was the biggest of all.  In my experience, there is something about the word ‘cheers.’  Almost all the time, it melts away tension and a big grin or smile takes over somber faces.  I think it is because ‘cheers’ is like the word ‘cheese’ where the lines on our faces cannot help but lift up rather than down.  He knew that this was going to be his last Christmas.  We knew that this was going to be his last Christmas.  Some could even say that we all knew that we were pretending that everything was okay when it was not okay, but maybe it was not really pretending.  Maybe it is just trying and creating new and happy memories in unhappy and even painful reality.  Maybe it is just trying to ring out and find the ‘cheers’ and positivity in pain and in the face of adversity and when the cloud of negativity looms overhead.

Just a couple days after Christmas and just before the New Year, he had died.  He had made it to Christmas.  He had not made it to the New Year.  All of us had made it in time to be together and say and ring in ‘cheers’ one last time, making a bittersweet memory imprinted in my mind.  Sometimes, the holidays can be the hardest time of the year where there is the flood of good and bad memories.  It can be the time of the year where we think about those who are missing and we end up missing these people the most.  Most definitely, it is that time of year that we find and make magic and as much ‘cheers’ as we can muster as we gather and try to come together. 
‘Cheers’ illicits joy and happy memories in the face of unhappy or daunting reality.  When have you been in a painful or hurtful time that you tried to overcome with creating new and happy memories? Have you ever noticed that the word ‘cheers’ naturally brings a smile to our faces? 
This Christmas and in the days to come that ends 2019 and starts 2020, I wish you and all your loved ones “Cheers!”
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)

The Swimmer

I was in lane two when I first encountered the swimmer. 

Lane one by the wall is my favorite lane because it has more space for me to do my stretches every ten laps, but that particular after-work swim to de-stress had me swimming in lane two to avoid the ‘circle’ swim that every swimmer knows about and avoids out of impatience and desire of personal space for ‘his’ or ‘her’ own lane.  My prescription goggles were foggy. I was underwater, slammed my hand against the wall, and just broke the surface to try to catch my breath when I heard the swimmer exclaim: “You certainly know what you are doing!”

I pulled off my goggles and squinted.  With my horrific eyesight without my glasses, all I could make out was an elderly gentleman who looked in his mid to late 70’s.  He was completely bald.  He was slim and well-built with certainly less love handles than me.  He had a big grin that revealed gaps of missing teeth.  His eyes shined like a young and excited child discovering something wondrous and wonderful.

He exclaimed happily: “You are a good swimmer!  You must do this a lot!” 

I was uncharacteristically awkward and wordless. It is unspoken swimmer rule that swimmers do not stop for small talk in the middle of vigorous and driven laps.  He was breaking the unspoken swimmer rules.  I uncomfortably gave him a half smile and nod alongside my squint and said, “Uhmm…thanks.”

Back under the water I went.  However, each time I came up for air, the swimmer boomed joyfully, “You know what you are doing!  You must do this a lot!  You are a good swimmer!”

I started to get annoyed.   I knew I should not have been annoyed.  He was so endearing, sweet, and clearly just being friendly, but my swim strokes were slower and sloppier because he kept interrupting me.  When I stopped shyly thanking him for his compliments, he slipped under water swimming slowly, steadily, and smoothly like a graceful gazelle. 

When I left the pool grumpy that I had a slower swim, he said with his huge smile, “I’ll see you again!  Keep up the great work!”

For three weeks, I kept encountering the swimmer.   I began to notice little things about him.   He wore dark blue trunks and black sandals that he would dip into the pool.    It took him up to 30 minutes or more of when I was about to leave the pool for him to even get into the pool.   He paced back and forth on the pool deck.  He then paced back and forth on the steps into the pool.  He always came with his aide who barely even looked at him because she was so busy with flying fingers texting on her cell phone.  Every now and then, the aide’s head popped up from the phone to encourage or scold the swimmer, “Get in the water!  It is good for you!”  or “Don’t wear your sandals into the pool!  You have to go into the pool with bare feet!”   Most of all, I noticed that other swimmers stayed away from him.  Just like I had.  We had been in such a rush to get our swim routines over and done with so we could return to our other menial and supposedly necessary tasks that we had ignored and excluded him.  I was ashamed.   
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