I had a friend once. I mean, I’m sure we all have. But this friend, see this friend was different. His name was Dom, and he was born in Pennsylvania. He moved here when he was 3 years old with his dad since his dad owned a company in Orange County. Me and Dom did everything together. We walked to the library together, we got in trouble together, we walked to the office to get our detentions together, we played basketball together and so much more. Me and Dom owned the basketball court at Tamura Elementary School. Until one day, he didn’t come to school. Maybe he’s just sick, I thought. Life all of a sudden seemed quieter and dull. The basketball court felt emptier than ever, the breeze felt colder, and I, for the first time in my life, got tired at school. Maybe he’ll come tomorrow. The next day I walked into the classroom, expecting him to be in his seat again, but it was empty. My heart dropped. All day during class, I kept looking back, hoping that after the 35th time he’d magically be in his seat. But he never appeared. Day after day, week after week, month after month, his chair remained empty. I found myself walking around the playground instead of playing basketball, wandering the libraries instead of racing sprints, and doing my work instead of playing games on the chromebooks. I haven’t seen Dominic since. Maybe he still remembers me. Maybe he’s a top 10 basketball player at his school in Pennsylvania, or wherever he is now. Dom being gone made me realize that nothing is forever, and he was one of the first people I lost that really made an impact on my life. Maybe we’ll run into each other one day, and maybe then we can finally play 1v1.
“You eat dinner with your family?”
I thought it was normal. It seemed like common sense to me. Every night, my family would come together for dinner. We’d decide what to make, then we’d cook together, then we’d eat together, and then clean together. Dinner was always something that I either looked forward to or something that I was reluctant to do. It was what allowed me to get closer to my parents and it gave them the ability to instill in me the meanings of right or wrong and good or bad.
My friends’ families are different. In fact, almost every single one of my friends didn’t eat dinner with their families. Being around them made me feel like my family was the weird one, like my family was weird for spending time with each other and learning from each other.
“How do you eat dinner then?”
“I just get my food and go back into my room and eat while I play games. Isn’t that what everybody else does?”
“Yeah, that’s what I do.”
What good does that do? Eating with my parents has become one of my favorite things recently. As I got older, my parents started sharing stories about business and how to understand people and deal with people. I’ve learned so much from my parents and heard so many stories of people that my parents have met. All because of simple family dinners, I’ve been able to gain all the knowledge and experience of two more lives while simultaneously living my own. I now know the background stories of thousands of people just from talking to my parents.
What good does it do, sitting in front of your computer playing games, when you could be gaining knowledge and experience by just communicating with the people who are in your life every day?
I’m Vietnamese. The average height of a Vietnamese male is 5’4. Luckily, I broke that mold being 5’10. However, 5 ’10 would be beneficial if I lived in Vietnam, but I unfortunately don’t. I live in America, where I am average.
Like every other kid, I always had dreams of playing sports on the biggest stages possible, whether it was basketball or soccer or football or volleyball. In first grade, my dream was to play for Liverpool FC. In third grade it was to play for the New York Giants with Odell Beckham Jr. In sixth grade it was to play in the NBA. In eighth grade it was to play for the USA national men’s volleyball team with TJ Defalco.
These dreams slowly began to fade away after every physical check up at my doctors, seeing my growth curve plateau more and more as the years went on. I realized that my dreams of being 6’6 were most likely impossible naturally, and my chances of going to play at the next level were slim. Slim, but not impossible. Despite the odds, I had all the tools and resources around me to succeed. All I had to do was be disciplined. So, I committed to the sport of volleyball and began my journey to becoming the greatest volleyball athlete I could be.
I figured the best way to get better at something was to have mentors and coaches as well as repetitions upon repetitions upon repetitions. So, I joined a local club team called United. The coaches here were legit; we had 4 coaches that have competed on an olympic level and 8 coaches that have played the sport professionally. I built the strongest relationship with Coach Evren, the club director. He saw my vision and allowed me to become what I wanted to become.
We did morning lifts together before school, we did private practices, we stayed after practice to get extra reps, we came before practices to get extra reps, and so much more. I knew that if I wanted to become the best, I had to outwork everybody by a mile in order to make up for my height. And this was the first time that I saw with my own eyes through my own experience that hard work does pay off. By the end of the season, I was named to the USA volleyball All-American team, which included the top 15 players of my age group. It wasn’t a huge accomplishment, but it was definitely a stepping stone in the right direction.
Real vs Fake
“I don’t want to go to school today Mom.”
I usually always loved school. I loved seeing my friends, talking to them, being my social self. In fact I was so social, my second grade teacher put my desk in the back of the room, facing the wall, so I could finally shut up. Spending time with friends was when I felt most alive, when I felt most comfortable. I felt that my purpose in life was to be around friends and people and hopefully make them laugh and smile around me.
Unfortunately, as you grow older, school changes and people change. I didn’t notice this or really understand this concept until I made it to high school. My older brother always told me to “keep my circle small” or whatever that meant, but I never really took into consideration what he said until I experienced things myself.
Friends started to shift interests. They changed personalities, and began getting caught up in social media and followers and popularity. They put on fake masks, started sucking up to the “popular kids” at school, doing whatever they could in order to become friends with those people. I, for the first time in my life, found myself with only about 3 real friends, 3 people who I felt I could properly trust and have that feeling reciprocated back to me. By number, I felt that I could be looked at as a “loner”, but I didn’t mind it at all. I kept my circle small and because of that, I made myself and my friends impenetrable and unbreakable. My bonds with my real friends exceeded any other type of bond that any other one of those “clout chasers” has created with their friends. I have my true brothers and sisters around me and that’s all I’ll ever need in life.
Typical asian stereotype: being good at piano. I fell into that stereotype. I’ve been playing piano for around 9 years now, but I wasn’t always in love with it. I started my introduction to the instrument when my older brother had to leave one afternoon.
“Where is Anthony going, Mom?”
“I’m going to take him to piano classes.”
“Can I go?”
“Maybe in a few years. You’ll go when the time comes.”
I spent my entire afternoon sitting in the living room, staring at the clock waiting for my brother to come home and play soccer with me like we always did after school. Finally, after what felt like 3 years of waiting, Anthony came home.
He hated it. He told me it was super hard and the teacher was super mean, which gave me two reasons to now all of a sudden hate the instrument I’ve never even tried before. After every lesson, my brother kept on coming home, telling me how much he hated piano. More and more negativity got inputted into my brain after every single piano lesson my brother had.
Inevitably, it became my turn to undergo the terrible experience of playing piano. At first, I didn’t think it was too bad. The teacher seemed nice, and it was easy to press the keys on the piano. However, after a certain amount of time, I started to become forced to play the piano and it became a chore instead of an outlet of peace and calmness. For the next 5-6 years, I hated piano. I always remember reluctantly walking up the stairs into the huge piano school, hating the scent of the place, hearing all of these broken, nasty chords being played all throughout the building. It was like a prison to me, until I flipped a switch in my brain.
I confronted myself one day in the mirror. I asked myself why I hated piano so much. My mind didn’t have a truthful answer to give back to me. All I could think of was that since my brother hated piano, as well as all my friends, then I should hate piano as well. I started to feel foolish for my belief system and for my immaturity. With this revelation, I began to give piano a second chance, another chance to prove itself to me that it was worth my effort and my parents’ money.
I started finding my niche of piano songs, my favorite genres and composers, and began learning the things that I wanted to learn. I started enjoying piano a little more and started to really feel the music and the notes as I played.
I will never let go of my piano. It is my favorite thing in my house, and I love playing it more than anything in the world.