Land of Hollywood

Land of Hollywood

Los Angeles became the Land of Hollywood when film production began there early in the 1900s after moving from other parts of the country.  Los Angeles, the land of natural sunshine, was the perfect place for film production due to its more than adequate ability to expose film.  Also many movie producers at that time were escaping from the Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company, which controlled almost all of the movie production patents at the time.  (Some interesting movie trivia.)

I was lucky to have been born in Los Angeles, where the Land Of Hollywood took a quite a memorable part in my life.  My grandmother was the first one in the family to participate in the motion picture industry.  Although she never explained to me how she got started, I am sure it was due to her friendship with a lady she use to play mah-jongg with that was an agent for Asian-American actors.  Grandma also took my mom with her to work in the film industry.  Mom only remembered working in the 1936 movie The Stowaway with Shirley Temple (when Ms. Temple played a Chinese orphan) and the 1937 movie The Good Earth, based on the Pearl Buck book on the lives of Chinese Farmers.  Working in the movies didn’t really phase my mom; she only boasted that she “played with Shirley Temple.”  Mom stopped working in films when she entered junior high school…school was much more important.  Grandma’s last known project was the television show, Love American Style, where she satirically played the wife of a Chinese Herb Specialist, who sold love potions.  To be honest, it was a joke on my grandmother, but fortunately she didn’t understand the comedy.

My sister and I started our ‘movie careers’ with the filming of the 1960 Mountain Road with James Stewart and Henry Morgan (playing World War II American forces in China trying to prevent the advancement of the Japanese).  My mom had brought us along with my cousin to take Grandma to the Burbank film studio to work.   When the director spotted us (I was about 8 at the time), he told my Mom he wanted us all to be in the film but had to get a work permits from the Board of Education of the LA Unified School District downtown before we work.  We flew down to the Board for the permits.  Upon our return, we were outfitted in Chinese peasant clothes and began “playing” at being villagers.  That part was fun, but when they applied our makeup (which looked like dirt) on our faces, arms, legs and clothing, it was beginning to feel strange.  And then to top it all off, we had to pretend we liked the cold rice they were feeding us, the fun ended.  Fortunately, we survived that first job and from there we worked whenever we could as basically called “extras.” 

Asian-American actor James Hong is also a voice actor, producer, and director of Chinese descent.  I first worked with James Hong in 1960 on the Checkmate TV Series.  Since then we worked together in the 1961 Flower Drum Song movie.  He is one of leading Chinese American actors in over 500 movies and TV shows.  His latest contribution is in the Kung Fu Panda film series as the voice of Mr. Ping, the father of Kung Fu Panda.  On a personal connection, James Hong married my cousin Susan and their daughter April has followed her father into the film industry and has taken acting and voice acting roles.  I hadn’t seen Susan since we were young, but after a family dinner where we both attended, she sent me an autographed photo of Mr. Ping, when she learned that Kung Fu Panda films are my favorite movies.

My whole family was involved, from Grandma, Mom, my sister, to my Dad, in the 1961 movie Flower Drum Song.   Grandma’s brother and wife were also in the film as the characters on the San Francisco’s Chinese New Year’s float and my uncle also  played as a long shoreman in the beginning of the movie when two of the movie main characters arrived as stowaways from China.  We worked over a week’s blast of filming street, park and parade scenes.  We did attend ‘school on the set,’ which were actually completing supervised homework assignments that we brought from our teachers.  The food catering at lunch was absolutely delicious!!  We didn’t understand how filming went, but it was fun to pretend.  I will admit that I missed my chance at “stardom,” when I was asked me to be one of the dancers in the front of the New Year’s Parade and being bashful at that age (I hadn’t developed my Dragon/Leo strengths yet), I declined the opportunity so I missed out on that score.  But whenever I watch the movie, I again think about lost opportunities….just who am I kidding??  Although we didn’t wander around Universal Studios, stars from neighboring sound stages would drop by to visit.  We met Tony Dow from Leave it to Beaver, remember him (Beaver’s Brother)??

My first work assignment alone was in 1961 with the movie, A Majority of One with Rosalind Russell and Sir Alec Guinness.  My scenes were built in a sound stage that looked like an ocean liner that Ms. Russell was traveling to Japan on and where she meets Mr. Guinness.  I played a young Japanese traveler with my mother taking part in the fire drill and swimming in the swimming pool.  This movie holds a special place for me since Ms. Russell and Mr. Guinness seemed to favor me over the others and always had me come sit with them after lunch.  I never understood what they were all saying, but just to say I sat on all of their laps including the other actors, adds to my fond memories since they were such great actors.  How many people can say that they sat on the lap of Obi-Wan Kenobi??  Me, and very proudly!!  With that movie, being ‘star-struck’ also went into high gear.  Fortunately, our sound stage at Warner Bros. was right in front of the commissary (cafeteria) where all the stars went to.  And around the age of 10, I figured out where the fan mail department where there was pre-printed show postcards that were sent out to fans.  I managed to accumulate a full set of postcards and then had the stars autograph them either before or after their meals!!   

It was a natural for me and my sister to be Korean orphans for the 1962 TV show  Ensign O’Toole.  The first K-Pop group, the Kim Sisters, played orphanage caretakers of a Korean orphanage that were adopted by the men on the USS Appley.  On the episode we were shown at the orphanage and onboard at an ice cream party.  I  remembered they took so many takes that the ice cream melted and was replaced with mash potatoes, which is difficult to pretend it was ice cream.  If you are interested in seeing the episode, you can watch it on YouTube:  Try and guess which orphan is me.  One of the recurring roles was Beau Bridges, who during high school attended a game at my high school and I was able to sit next to him.  We talked about the show and he actually remembered that episode with all the orphans.

I have always enjoyed my movie assignments when I got them, but when I worked on the 1963 movie The Ugly American (with Marlon Brando) this was especially memorable.  Sorry, Mr. Brando, the movie itself was not interesting and again I played a villager from a Southeast Asian country.  But we were on the backlot of Universal Studios before they changed it into a tour, so it was open and not restricted.  Another boy was an extra and we went out on the lot after lunch.  I’m sorry I didn’t have a camera with me, because all that I saw those days were amazing!!  We saw a full castle with turrets and a drawbridge, a New York City street and a little European street.  I learn about the fake sets because we went into some of the stores on those streets and there was nothing inside!!  We walked by the McHale’s Navy ship sitting in a lake.  Then we came across something wonderful – Alfred Hitchcock filming what was soon to be The Birds, the exploding gas station scene.  And then they were filming Bye Bye Birdie in front of the City Hall and we could see the whole set while standing on a hill.  We came back the next day and this time armed ourselves with our autograph books, so I got one from Alfred Hitchcock!!  What a memory!!

When I was required to join the Screen Actors Guild, the actors labor union, my parents decided to end my “film career.”  It was more important to get a full education.  Besides, attending school on the set was not sufficient for a real good education.  But I got a good taste of the life in working in the movies that not everyone could receive and for that I am grateful. 

I connected to the Land of Hollywood in another way years later.  My sister started working for a Beverly Hills pediatrician, and she began babysitting for Patty Duke (Parents Trap and Patty Duke Show)  and John Astin (Addams Family TV series).  They had five rambucious boys and my sister couldn’t handle them all, so I was asked to help.  It was quite amusing to see John interact with his kids.  I remember one day at breakfast, we were all eating at the table, when Sean Astin put a mask on his Dad.  John just acted as if nothing happened, but believe me, it was odd to sit with a grown man with a mask on, talking normally and trying to eat breakfast through the mask.  Later the next year we were invited to their New Year’s Party  and met with some of their neighbors, who happened to be Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) and Carroll O’Connor (All in the Family).  I was pleased when Mr. Nimoy remembered me a couple of years later when I attended one of his Broadway plays and he invited me backstage for a visit.  I certainly made points with one of my classmates who was with me and from Kentucky and had never met a ‘star’ before!

Many, many years later, when the real estate boom bottomed out which also affected the construction industry I was working in, I turned my accounting career from construction to production companies.  Basically they produced commercials, so getting to know the directors, it was easy for me to have casual audition for side parts on the commercials.  I was able to sing for a Kia Rio commercial and got a small role in an ESPN commercial.  All in all, it was pretty neat to “pretend” again, along with the ability to see the various celebrities starring in the commercials.  But I also worked for RSA & Associates, doing commercials production and Scott-Free, film production and both owned by Director Ridley Scott.  Filming of course was not done in the building, but all the planning meetings and wardrobe fittings were held in our offices and we had the ability to also see the celebrities in the movies being film.  It is not every day that you go down the hall and turn the corner, only to run straight into Denzel Washington in the hallway!!  Or exit the building only to see Sylvester Stallone on the sidewalk, or Samuel Jackson in the lobby.  I guess I will never get over being ‘star-struck.’

Yes, I was never destined to be a “Star.”  But as you can see, I did have a strong connection to the film industry for it to be one of the high points of my life where I could share it with you today and hope you enjoyed the memories.

Be Your Own Caretaker

Be Your Own Caretaker

I learned the hard way; you MUST be your own caretaker or suffer the circumstances.  And in my case, thank the Lord, that the worst did not happen, or I might not have been here to write this.  First, I’d like to explain how I got to where I am health-wise:

My mind has always been centered on my parents’ health not mine and was very concerned about their well-being.  Although Dad believed in preventive health care and always maintained his doctors’ visits and took his medications religiously, he still had many health problems.  Mom always took care that Dad kept within his dietary limits – very little salt, not a lot of fat or pork, and not a lot of fried foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables (she actually got him to love artichokes).  Dad was a twin and it showed in the way he and his brother differed in their ways of their own health care.  As I said before, Dad always maintained his regular doctor visits and medications with preventive health care.  Uncle, the younger twin, unfortunately didn’t adhere to such standards.  He would only go to doctors if he had to.  And like Dad, Uncle loved Chinese food, but his wife didn’t and did not monitor what he ate.  So when Uncle bought Chinese food to-go, he ate the whole thing usually at one sitting.  One of the foods he and Dad loved was roast pig, which I’ll admit is delicious but thankfully not my favorite.  At one point, Dad wanted to compare the medications they were taking because they had the same health problems although Dad never suffered a heart attack like Uncle had.  It turned out Uncle was only taking half the amount Dad was.  It didn’t concern Uncle and told Dad those were the only ones prescribed and shrugged his shoulders.  One day Uncle and another brother was over visiting that I noticed that Dad and Uncle were twins, but you could only tell by their faces, because Dad was regular-sized, and Uncle looked like the ‘Pillsbury Doughboy.’  How sad, because not too much longer after that, Uncle died of a massive heart attack mowing his sister-in-law’s lawn.  This is a great comparison of how preventive medical care and the lack of it worked in identical twins.    

Dad’s health problems were basically genetic related.  Since my Dad’s parents came directly from China, family history and health history is unknown.  But judging from my grandparents’ health, Dad’s bad genes came from his mother.  My grandparents had arrived from Canton, China by ship in San Francisco and settled in the nearby city of Oakland downtown.  Grandpa was a robust and strong man.  Everyday Yeah Yeah (Grandpa, Cantonese for Dad’s father) would walk around nearby Lake Merritt before work, which was quite a feat since the shore length is 3.4 miles.  When Yun Yun (Grandma, Cantonese for Dad’s mother) was in her 80’s, she broke her hip and couldn’t walk anymore.  Yeah Yeah would pick her up when she had to go to bed or use the restroom.  He did that by himself until Yun Yun passed away from a stroke.  Yeah Yeah was quite a man.  He passed away after Yun Yun to what I believe was from missing her.  Yun Yun went into the hospital many times after suffering strokes and eventually passed away from one. 

Dad took after his mother and had other different medical problems.  In those days, his medical plan did not have everything computerized like my medical plan with UCLA, so I suggested that Dad keep a list of surgeries so he could inform all of his doctors.  He took great pride in maintaining that list and proudly showed all of his nurses every time he went into the hospital which included triple by-pass surgery, kidney stones, stents and carotid artery surgeries.  But at the age of 83, he wasn’t strong enough to withstand the series of three gastroenterology tests usually given all together to him by his regular gastroenterologist who was having back surgery.  Dad couldn’t endure the rigors of not eating for days and the third test and passed away on the way to the testing with a smile on his face. 

Mom was my healthier parent.  She was used to caretaking when her sister was hospitalized for a nervous condition when she was younger, and Mom would go to visit her regularly.  When my parents and I purchased house together, I began slowly taking over their caretaking, making sure they went to their doctor visits and taking their medications.  Mom was in really great health until her late 60’s when she developed a cancer tumor that thankfully didn’t attach to any organ and was easily removed.  Then she began to have heart problems and had to have stents placed in her heart.  Mom developed lung edema problems that became constant, leading to kidney problems.  She made up for her earlier hospital-free days with constant hospitalization for the edema and kidney problems.  Mom lasted thirteen years longer than Dad and passed away at the age of 93-1/2. 

As I mentioned earlier, I had always have been concerned about my parents’ well-being and really didn’t pay attention to mine.  Sure, I made sure I went to the doctors for annual physicals and took all my medications regularly like Dad had, but I’ll admit I didn’t pay attention to my diet.  And although I wasn’t a porker, I had been overweight most of my life, unlike my skinny sister and cousins.  But I really didn’t eat that much and to be honest I did not think it all out like I should have.  One thing for sure, I did have Yun Yun’s side of the family genes.  Yun Yun, Dad and I all had diabetes and coronary problems to varying degrees.  I didn’t realize the seriousness of this because I didn’t understand earlier how Yun Yun’s end result related to Dad’s end result and how the whole thing related to me.  But I am fully aware now.

While visiting my mother who was in the hospital in 2018, I suffered a cardiac arrest, in the best place to have one, in front of the nurses’ station.  I am still known today as the Code Blue that happened in front of the nurses’ station.  I thought at the time I had tripped and put my arms up to protect my face since I fell face down.  I woke up in the Emergency Room with my arm in a sling.  I still didn’t realize I had suffered a cardiac arrest until I was informed by the ER nurse.  And top it all off, I broke my left arm trying to brace my fall.  Five days later, a pacemaker was implanted.  Technology is constantly improving and the pacemaker I now have is small and I have it checked every three months for any problems or recorded episodes.  I also have to make sure that I keep any electronic devices away from the pacemaker, such as mobile phones and radios, which could interfere with the pacemakers reading ability.  The pacemaker not only checks my heart to see if there were any incidents of stopped or slow heart rates and any other related events.  From all my checkups since it’s installation, only the stress when Mom passed away last year effect my pacemaker and it recorded that information.  The latest checkup showed the battery life will be good for eight years or so. 

The continued downward health spiral continued in 2018 and in early July, I started suffering with swollen legs and fluid seepage.  My primary doctor placed me into the hospital for a three-week visit to diagnose the cause of this swelling and seepage.  It was finally discovered that the cause was a total breakdown of my kidneys and that dialysis was imminent.  I had no one to talk to about this situation and the thought of dialysis scared me.  So my cardiologist visited me in the hospital, and we talked at length about dialysis and how important it was my only recourse.  My cardiologist is a wonderful man and I knew he really cared about my welfare and so I finally consented to start dialysis.  So my life changed with my new life on dialysis.  It hasn’t been the best of times for me, since I have always had deep arteries, and several operations were necessary to raise the arteries closer to the surface or to widen the arteries with medication for needle access to connect to the dialysis machines.  Since I have had a history of bad incidents with needles, this has not been very comfortable for me.  But I am now finally happy to say that the last procedure (#5) finally did the trick and my dialysis technician has no more problems connecting me. 

Currently I am on hemodialysis, which is a dialysis treatment to filter wastes and water from my blood, as my kidneys did when they were healthy.  Two needles are used to connect me to the dialysis machine, in and out.  I was placed on a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday 8am schedule for 3-1/2 hours every week.  I started out with a catheter implanted on my right shoulder and both of my arms were free to be able to do any crafts, such as crocheting blankets or doing needlepoint Christmas Stockings (finished 5 blankets and 4 stockings).  But now the procedure was changed and access to my blood is through the arteries in my right arm, which I am unable to move, so either sleeping is the best bet or watching TV.  However, there are some dialysis patients that have to be medicated to control their behavior.  Without the medication, they would be constantly yelling obscenities at the Staff or other patients.  One patient would go off almost daily which really disturbing the rest of the patients that we placed a complaint about her that she was changed to a different time schedule with less patients.  Although I am allowed to travel and can schedule dialysis at other centers across the country and abroad, there are still my problems of connecting to the machines.  I have a favorite technician who has never hurt me or caused bumps while connecting to my access, but when he was on vacation, another technician had problems.  I got large bumps and black and blue marks all over my right arm from that, very uncomfortable.  So, I am planning to eventually change to peritoneal dialysis, another form of dialysis in which a catheter is implanted on my stomach and I can do the dialysis at home with the aid of a small machine and a large supply of saline solution while I am up or sleeping.  I will be able to take the machine on trips and do the treatment wherever I am.  No more needles for dialysis.

I learned from Dad’s situation that you must know and trust your doctors and if not, change them.  His gastroenterologist was out for back surgery and Dad accepted the associate gastroenterologist.  He did not know that his practices were difference than his regular doctor.  In my opinion, this caused the passing of Dad because the associate doctor did not have the true concern of Dad’s  welfare.  Instead of doing three tests together, he did them back to back to have separate billing for each test and thus weaken Dad to his passing.  When I started working and started receiving medical insurance, it took me a few years to discover the doctors at UCLA, but I am so happy that I did.  I have been with my primary care doctor for close to 30 years.  I have been with my UCLA specialty doctors for less time, but I think the world of them and respect them as well as they respect me.  Believe me, before starting with UCLA doctors and for a period in between, I have had my share of what I can truly call “quacks.”  While one doctor was removing my skin hang tags with liquid nitrogen, she used so much that I lost my voice for several weeks!!  I reported her to the insurance company and my employer also changed insurance companies.  And then there was a period when I lost my paid medical insurance and had to go on Medi-Cal.  Oh, was that a change in the quality of medical care!!  it is so important to have doctors who are up to date in their medical knowledge and who are truly concerned about the welfare of their patients.  Medi-Cal doctors have no respect for their patients, other than what they represent in payments for them.  I had a cardiologist that scheduled everything one appointment at a time and he did nothing when my legs got swollen.  I knew from before that if that had happened before with my UCLA cardiologist, he would have prescribed a water pill to reduce the swelling.  This time I had to ask my Medi-Cal primary doctor for that medication.  I was so happy when I reached the age of 65 and was able to change medical insurance to SCAN where everything is covered without any monthly payments!!  And bottom line…I was able to return to all my UCLA doctors and hospitals, which helped save my life at UCLA-Santa Monica and Ronald Reagan Hospitals.

So, you can see, being your own caretaker is very important for life sustaining.  Of course there will be a time when that will no longer be possible, but while you are able, please take my advice and learn self-care and preventive medical care, which is very, very important.

Gung Hay Fat Choy – 2020 Year of the Rat

Gung Hay Fat Choy – 2020 Year of the Rat

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy New Year’s!!  2020 is the Year of the Rat.

The Chinese Zodiac is made up of a 12-year cycle, each year is named after a different animal that reveals distinct characteristics to its year.  Many Chinese believe that the year of a person’s birth is the primary factor in determining that person’s personality traits, physical and mental attributes and degree of success and happiness.  To learn about your Animal Sign:  Find the Animal that includes your year of birth, which are listed starting in 1924 to 2020.  If you were born prior to 1936, count backwards in cycles of 12 years to find your Sign. E.g. 1935 is Year of the Pig, etc.

Year of the Rat:  1900, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

Ambitious, honest, sincere, generous, and able to maintain self-control, but often find it difficult to maintain lasting friendships.  Seldom make lasting friendships.  Your best will be with the Dragon, Monkey and Ox, and the worst with the Horse.

Year of the Ox:  1901, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

Bright and patient, you are a good lister but disdainful of failure.  You can be happy by yourself yet make an outstanding parent.  You are attracted to the Snake, Rooster and Rat, and should avoid the Ram.

Year of the Tiger:  1902, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Aggressive, courageous, sensitive, and considerate, yet short-tempered often entering into conflict with others.  For happiness seek the Horse, Dragon or Dog, and leave both the Snake and Monkey be.

Year of the Hare:  1903, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Talented and affectionate, yet shy, you work well with people and do well in business.  Luckiest of all signs.  Most compatible with the Ram, Pig and Dog, and least compatible with the Rat and the Rooster.

Year of the Dragon:  1904, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

Passionate and soft-hearted but somewhat stubborn, very healthy and energetic.  You are well-suited to the Rat, Snake and Monkey, but ill-suited to the Dog.

Year of the Snake:  1905, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Very wise and very strong-willed, physically beautiful, yet vain and high-tempered.  The Ox, Rooster and Dragon are fine, but the Tiger and Pig will bring trouble. 

Year of the Horse:  1906, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Extremely popular as you are attractive, cheerful, friendly and flattering to others whose company you seek.  Seek the Tiger, Dog and Ram, but beware of the Rat.

Year of the Ram:  1907, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Elegant and artistically creative, yet timid or puzzled, you seek the guidance of others.  Seek the Hare, Pig or Horse, but avoid the Ox and the Dog.

Year of the Monkey:  1908, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Clever and skillful to the point of genius, practical and given to detail, you generally have a low opinion of others.  Your best relationships are with the Dragon, Rat and Ram and worst are with the Tiger.

Year of the Rooster:  1909, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

You are directed to work and seek knowledge, a pioneer who tends to be selfish and lonely.  Choose the Rat, Snake or Dragon, never the Hare.

Year of the Dog:  1910, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2039

Loyal and honest you are generous and work well with others though are sometimes critical.  You are well-suited to the Horse, Tiger and the Hare and ill-suited to the Dragons and Ram.

Year of the Pig:  1911, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2040

Gallant and chivalrous, you have a great inner strength and make few but lasting friendships.  Choose the Hare, Ram or Horse, and avoid the Snake.

GUEST POSTING – by Roma Vomerine

GUEST POSTING – by Roma Vomerine

The following article is a Guest Posting by a friend I met on my recent life travels.  Our conversations started out casual but after a while, life reared its head and we shared our goods and bads.  Although I was totally shocked at her admissions, I was struck by her ‘angelic glow’ and ‘spirit’ that came to me as a beacon of strength and conviction.  It is my prayer that by printing her story on my blog will help at least someone who may have similar circumstances however remote and give them the strength to persevere and overcome circumstances that were not in their control in any way. Melanie

My Story by Roma Vomerine

 “I was surprised and quite pleased when Melanie approached me. I was honored that she asked if I would share my story.          

My story makes people shuffle in their seats. It’s the kind of story that provokes mothers to cover their child’s ears. My story is suicidal at age 6. My story is my best friend being dragged to death. My story is silent. The timeline of my story is difficult to create perfectly, as all memories distort, yet remain embedded in their best recollection. 

For context, I’m under 20 years old, and I’m female. I live in pale skin and brown shoulder-length hair. I am the kind of skinny that a street-cat is, and I am just as reluctant and assuming of danger. I wear baggy, muted-colored, clothes. I wake up at 4:44 am (every day since my best friend died) and I go to sleep when I feel safe. I’m obsessed with anything academic and keep my bookshelves in alphabetical order. 

When I was six years old, I was molested for the first time by a family friend similar to my age. This molestation continued daily, (and eventually grew into rape) until I was 12 years old. As the molestation continued, I stopped laughing at my favorite TV Shows. My books were no longer as comforting. 

A weekend break of dawn compelled me to the kitchen. The large knife my mother used looked so beautiful in silver; powerful enough to end the pain. I stood motionless staring at it, for what felt like hours, as if I were magnetized to death himself. My mother came upon me and broke the trance. I spoke softly, about how I wanted to slit my throat with that beautiful kitchen knife and feel the blood drip down to my toes. My mother looked at me like I had been shot in the face. Frantically, my mother and father sat me down to explain that suicide is not acceptable, and not an option. As they described death, I was only more persuaded to take my life, to be set free. This feeling never quite left and is still always brimming under the surface. I was not sent to a therapist, a doctor, and no further action was taken other than the conversation. 

In elementary school, I went to my friend’s house for a sleepover. I was separated from the children at night and told to lie on a mattress. I can still see its faded peach color, feel the floral patterns and stains. My friend’s father dropped his belt and raped me. I was no older than 10. I screamed, I fought, I cried. When my mother picked me up, I had no more tears left to cry. I was silent for days, as if I screwed my jaw shut. 

I was taken to the back room by my hairdresser when I was no older than 8. I was molested. I cried, and he was fired. At 15, I was asked to strip naked by a man in his 60’s on a movie set; the director told me it was my fault for not knowing that men were “like that”. I came upon a statistic which stated that people who are sexually abused previously are more likely to be abused again than people who were not abused. This terrified me. 

A year later, my grandfather shot himself. We spoke on the phone daily. I walked into his home and the smell of death consumed me. His dog rushed up to me, blood on its mouth. He had been lapping at my grandfather’s blood. I put dirt in his grave with my own hand on the shovel, in my ready-to-go funeral outfit and black high heels from Shoes4Less. 

A few months later, I visited my now ex-girlfriend in the psychiatric ward and knew that she, too, would live a life parallel to my grandfather’s. Her blue eyes turned grey, her skin was a display case for her veins and bones. I wrote her a letter and bought her some slippers and stuffed animals. What else am I supposed to do? What else was unattainable. 

I began to ask myself, what am I supposed to do with all of this? Who is there to blame? I felt so lost yet so much more aware than my peers. There are parts of me that are broken, that they don’t even know exist. I abandoned hope and implemented techniques to get better. I have read every book, article, and paper on recovery. I’ve seen all the documentaries, attempted the religions, and I realized that there was no cure for how I felt. I had to face the pain and anger until it became manageable. I had to tame it.

I don’t want revenge from the men who took advantage of me. I’m working on forgiving those in my life who should have intervened when I was a child, and I’m working on forgiving who killed my friend. 

I have told you my “secret” life. My public life identifies me as a prolific self-taught composer, a straight A student, an academic, and an introvert who is always reading or writing. I am an avid volunteer and I try to love my friends with all that I have. I have 3 jobs, and I make a 5-figure salary to allow for me to begin financial independence and security. I go to a University that is referred to as a ‘reach school’.

At any point during this nightmare, during this hellish life that any reader may feel right now, it is possible to get out of the rut. The hardest part is deciding you deserve to get out. The even harder part is deciding to do it. 

Surrendering to the absurdity of the Universe, the careful chaos, and the truth is what is healing me. There is no reason, no rhyme, no equation or rational explanation for what I have suffered. Once I stopped fighting that, I realized that for the first year of my life, I am not facing sexual or emotional abuse. Nobody close to me has died. I am financially stable. I’m on over 7 medications, but I am learning how to eat and sleep. It may seem trivial to the regular adult, but for me, that is a victory. I choose to wake up and be grateful. For all of it. For being a prodigy, for being raped, for molestation, for the close friend I was able to have, for every phone call with my grandfather, accessible education, and for each healing scar on my wrist. The point of my story is, there is no point. There is no point in holding onto fear or anger. There is no point in revenge. There is no point to self-harm. None of those things change what has happened, they just fuel the negative cycle of trauma. There is no point in claiming to be wise. I know nothing. Who am I to define what is good or evil? Who am I to cast blame? I am not God. I am not omniscient. I am a human. My story is ultimately pointless, but my perspective has given me strength and understanding which is invaluable. All I have left to say is, thank you, Universe.”

Christmas Memories Ease the Lost

Christmas Memories Ease the Lost

This Christmas will be the first one I will be spending without my Mom.  The worst one for me by far.  But instead of ruining the Holidays for me, I decided to let my Blog help me through it and relive some Christmas Memories.  I hope this helps those going through the same situation.

My Mom and I were always close.  I was supposed to be born on her birthday, but I decided I wanted my own birthday and came out six days early.  (Ha, ha).  I put Mom through a lot, including 23 hours of labor, which she never held that against me.  In fact she sacrificed to make our lives better and I will always thank her for that.

As with all kids, Christmas was a joyous time because of the gifts.  We hadn’t learned the true reason for Christmas which was the birth of Jesus yet.  Never will forget the Christmas my sister and I got our Barbie dolls.  It was such a big thing that all our cousins and friends in school wanted!!  My sister got the Brunette Barbie and I got the Blonde in their Zebra swimsuits.  Can’t believe how far Barbie has come and moved up in the career chain, when later I bought my own Doctor Barbie with its own stethoscope.  Along with the dolls that year, we got the tons of Barbie clothes and a Barbie house that was amazing.  Still remember those funny little shoes that were hard to keep track of.  We were occupied with those dolls for hours and hours on end, which I am sure is one reason our parents got them in the first place.  One painful memory that just came up was when I stepped on my Barbie Doll Stand and got two holes in the bottom of my foot.  I survived with no lasting effects.  But it was so comical that my Mom and Grand Uncle were so concerned about my foot and examining it, that they forgot it was attached to me and caused me to lose my balance and fall down to the floor with them still holding onto my foot! 

Another Christmas a cardboard wall appeared in the dining room.  Boy, the curiosity of what would be so big that the entire wall was taped up got us for over a week!!  For kids, that was the longest time ever!!  Then on Christmas morning, we were told to stay in our bedroom and the great reveal was on!!  When we came out, we were totally surprised to find a piano!!  Funny that Dad was the only who could play anything and did a small rendition of “Chop Sticks.”  How appropriate Dad!!  From there we started piano lessons.  I honestly didn’t like “lessons,” because we had to do so many scales.  Who cares about scales??  I just wanted to play the piano!!  But I kept at it and was able to go on from there to read and play any piece of music.  I still love playing the piano today.  I did discover later that my Dad did not favor piano playing, so I would play when he was outside working in the garage or in the yard.

One of the most special Christmas Memories was when Mom baked cookies to give them away as gifts.  Spritz Butter Cookies in all types of Holiday Cookie Shapes:  Christmas Trees, Pinwheels, Wreaths, Diamonds, Circles and the list goes on and on.  They were made in all different colors with all different sugar and chocolate sprinkles using this special cookie contraption that made even cookies.  Although when I first tried it, the cookies didn’t resemble any recognizable shape.  My Mom would make all the different types of Butter Cookies including her Pecan Puffs, Lemon Bars and package them up in Christmas Cookie Tins to give away.  Thank God, she stopped making Fruit Cake long time ago.  Boy, talk about visions of Butter Christmas Trees dancing in one’s head!!  My sister and I loved to take the leftover Butter Cookie Dough with all the colors and make unique Butter Cookies for ourselves.  They look super odd but tasted super good with a lot of sprinkles!!

Christmas Day was always special for us because my Mom would make Cha-Shui Baos (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns) for lunch.  Oh yum, I can taste those buns today!!  The buns she made were not like the steamed ones you can get in Chinatown for Dim Sum but were only made in certain restaurants.  These Chinese BBQ Pork Buns were made with regular yeast dough and baked golden brown.  Nothing like the crunch from the freshly baked buns.  A real treat for a special day.

In closing I would also like to mention a friend Kevin that recently passed.  I would see him every day with his little dog, Nola, when I would go to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Manhattan Beach to get my coffee and work on my computer.  He had a lot of friends that loved both him and Nola for many years.  It is strange to see the empty table he always sat with Nola.  Another friend put a memorial with a cup of coffee, cookie and cup of water for Nola and others have added other items; a very fitting gesture.  His friends are holding a memorial service for him at that table he sat at this Saturday.  Such a lovely gesture; may Kevin rest in peace.

The Birth of My Creativity

The Birth of My Creativity

Last year I showed my Mom the Needlepoint Christmas Stocking I made for her  showing two penguins hugging each other with her name ‘Pauline’ on it.  I explained that she was the bigger penguin on top and I was the smaller penguin below.  Then I gave her the crocheted Popcorn Corner-to Corner Blanket I also made to keep her warm.  She started crying, saying they were beautiful;  Then added sadly that she didn’t teach me how to do any of those things.  But I corrected her right way!!  “Mom,” I reminded her, “You taught me how to sew, knit and crochet when I was only ten years old!!”  Then I added, “If you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the things I do today.”  My Mom not only gave birth to me, but she gave birth to my creativity.

I would watch my Mom all the time while was she made my sister and I all of our dresses for school.  At the time I didn’t mind that my sister and I were dressed alike because I was proud that my Mom made them.  None of my classmates had dresses like we had.  Besides, the dresses Mom bought were made of nylon and I just hated those ‘sticky icky’ things.  They itched and made me scratch like crazy, but Mom told us we looked cute in them.  Who cares about cute, when you itch all the time??  So, it was no wonder when one day we had to go to a party and Mom dressed us in those icky dresses.  I rebelled (true Leo that I am) and said I wanted to take it off and wear one of Mom-made dresses.  Mom tried to reason with me, telling me that the dress on was more ‘dressed-up’ than the one I picked out.  But I wouldn’t accept (again true Leo) and kept trying to take it off, stating (also stubborn Leo I am) I wouldn’t leave until they let me change.  Well, my parents decided to leave the house anyway (which was actually a trick to scare me and just went around the block).  That didn’t stop me from wanting to take off the dress, but I still couldn’t unbutton it.  I few across the street to my friend’s house to ask her to unbutton me, knowing I could watch my house from there.  Meanwhile, my parents had returned only to find the house open and I was nowhere to be seen!  When After my friend finished, I went home.  My parents were not happy with me, but I defended myself and said I could see the house and I HAD to take this icky dress off!!  Well, the lesson was really on my parents and they admitted to each other that I adamant about it, so they let me change into the dress I chose by my Mom. 

It was no surprise that I hounded my Mom to let me sew like her.  So at the age of ten, she bought the fabric and pattern and taught me how to make a simple sleeveless blouse.  It was plain by normal standards, but it was my first project.  And to this day, I have made hundreds of different clothing from tops and jackets to dresses and pants – which does not include the hundreds of Barbie clothes I made.  Mom coached me on all of the things after that first blouse.  But Mom started it all. 

I went on to sew for not only myself, but relatives and friends too.  I think the hardest items I had to sew were the different bridesmaid dresses for several weddings I was commission to do unpaid.  Nothing like having to sew five or more dresses for different-sized bridesmaids especially when those dresses that had to be corrected for size and then hemmed.  It wasn’t so bad for those girls that lived locally, but usually for those that lived far away and only arrived a few days before the wedding, I had to stay up late several nights to complete the dresses on time.  I think the worst case was when I made a bridesmaid dress for a girl that was as busty in front as she was in the back!  Took me a while to figure out that rather than to try to adjust the pattern, the solution was to make the front the same as the back and thank goodness it fit!!  No surprise that this caused my retirement from the seamstress business for good.

Knitting and crocheting gives me real relaxation, another thing I can thank my Mom for.  And now that I have time to do those things during the medical treatments I take, I have made a bunch of blankets, baskets, scarfs and beanies.  No, it not for only the ‘elderly’ to do, but for those who are creative and like to make things and give them away.  It is an item that for those that receive them remember for a long time.  Once I crocheted a blanket for a friend that supposed to be a gift to her grandson.  Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t think she gave it as a gift…she kept it for herself!!

My Mom also sacrificed a lot for my sister and I to be in the arts.  She made sure we took dance and piano lessons, chopping vegetables at my Uncle’s Chinese Restaurant at night.  It was hard and grueling work, but Mom did it for us.  I started dancing as a Sugar Plum Fairy in the Christmas Show at the age of five.  No, don’t think anyone in the class knew what we were doing, we kept bumping into each other.  But we were sure cute, if I do say so myself.  I advanced all the way in ballet to toe shoes, modern and tap.  That gave me the training to allow me to hit the dance floor with a vengeance!!  Love dancing.  I still love playing piano to this day.  Nothing like house-sitting for a friend that had a house with a street that surrounded the whole house.  I played to all hours of the night and bothered no one!!

When the scrapbooking craze came out, I went along right with them.  I even became a Creative Memories Demonstrator to get the supplies at wholesale.  Since I had hundreds of photos, it was easy for me to organize and eventually make complete scrapbooks into Memory Books to relive the events and trips of my life.  A blog article on Easy Scrapbooking with appear in the lineup.

The last addition to my crafting has been card making. Hallmark has been nice, but it gets expensive and my relatives and friends truly value my handmade cards using stamps from Stampin’ Up! Invoke Arts and the different vendors at the Stamp Conventions held three times a year (or at least I think that do). Going to card-making workshops, and craft fairs has been rewarding, and yes, expensive too, but well worth it. More in depth on this in another article.

So, you can see my Mom was a great contributor to my life in many ways.  And yes, Mom, you did teach me a lot for which I am eternally grateful, and I will always love and miss you.

Pay Attention!!

Pay Attention!!

Today, it’s system overload with a capital “O.”  Info coming at you from everywhere!!  And the bombardment continues with your actions and others’ actions around you.  It’s very easy to get lost in all of this.  Lost in not knowing where you are or what you are doing, and as you get older, believe me it gets worst.  Ever find yourself in the wrong place because you were in ‘autopilot’??  I have seen so many drivers make right or left turns from the wrong lane, without thinking of what would happen when they tried to make it right…for themselves.  No thought that the on-coming car or car next to them, only the thought of getting to right place NOW!!  Heaven forbid that should take the extra step and go around the block or go to the next signal and make a U-turn.  No it has to be NOW!!  That’s the “NOW” Generation for you, made up of all drivers of all ages.

How do cut down the ‘fog?’  Well, if you train yourself to be alert and aware of your surroundings, you can prevent accidents from happening.  Personal experience in this awareness has allowed me to prevent many, many accidents from occurring which was a result of a period when I wasn’t so aware.  By being aware,  helps you maneuver through life (and other people) without the chance of actually running into each other and personal injury.  It’s essential to keep an eye open to what’s going around you to what is normal, and not, and an ear open for abnormal sounds for that time or place.   

 I learned early in life how important it was to be aware. Coming home from UCLA, I noticed a car following me from the freeway.  That car started weaving back and forth across the lanes to get behind me.  Bong!  My inner alarm went off and my fear told me to get home as soon as possible.  So I sped home and pulled into the driveway across the street to backup into my driveway.  But that car came and blocked me.  Fortunately, my grand uncle was standing in the front of our house and saw the car and yelled for the driver to move!  With reluctance the driver did but told my uncle to tell  me to stay away from her husband and not go drinking with him at the bar!!  My uncle could tell she was drunk and told her to leave or he would call the police.  I shudder to think if I was there by myself without my uncle; I thank the Lord I didn’t have to find out.  But that was my first being ‘aware’ lesson.

The main focus of driving should be…how to get to a destination safely without any incidents.  But tell that to a lot of drivers that turn on their radios and entertain themselves by singing at the top of their lungs or talking or texting on their phones even though it is against the law.  Or possibly holding conversations with their passengers and not paying attention to their driving.  That’s how those drivers end up on wrong streets or in the wrong lanes and immediately correct the error with what I call ‘selfish driving.’  Why don’t drivers remember that they are manipulating a machine that is capable of killing??  Plain fact.  Driving is a fantastic convenience, but dangers associated with it are presented with each moment one is behind the wheel that have been forgotten. 

Then there is your personal safety.  You can’t control what others do, but you can prevent personal harm from some of their intentional (or not) detrimental actions if you just open your eyes and ears.  There was an elderly man at a Farmers Market in Santa Monica, CA who hit his gas pedal instead of the brakes and lost control of the car, killing and injuring several people.  Truly a sad situation.  Just using proper reactions to loud engine noises, screaming, screeching tires, and the list goes on and on, those people might have saved their lives or injury.  Bottom line…”be aware.”

Another example of awareness involved accident scams I heard about.  The scam involved a scam driver suddenly pulling in front of a victim’s car, which caused the victim to crash into the scam driver.  It is the scam driver’s word against the victim driver, who is now at fault.  And to top it off, the scam driver might also conveniently have passengers who are then witnesses that the victim driver was at fault, plus their ‘accident injuries’ led to a settlement from the victim’s insurance company, which added up.  Just be aware of the ‘big picture’ around you and notice how the other drivers are driving.  True, many drivers are driving properly, but it is always that 10% that get can you and in the worst way.

So remember how your driving affects you too.  A gorgeous beauty queen ending her chances of ever winning another beauty contest title by texting to a friend while she was driving.  Just one text and that was it.  Why??  Was it that important??  A friend of mine Stephanie was driving and fell asleep at the wheel because she was tired but wanted to get home.  Not so bad if she was on an open road.  But she wasn’t, so she didn’t turn and ran right into a steel pole…which led to stitches all over her face and up her arm which she has permanent markings today.  Stephanie was lucky that she ended up with stitches and not a grave marker.  I know, morose to think about that, but everything has a reason. She learned her lesson to not drive while tired to stay alive.  Hope someone reading this will too.

Let Me Introduce Myself

Let Me Introduce Myself

Hi!  I’m Melanie Lee and this is my Lifestyle Blog:  Melanie’s Pandamonium.  You may ask, Why Melanie’s Pandamonium??  Well, it all started when I shared stories that happened in my life with new friends and acquaintances, and I would get, “You should write a book.”  Book??  Sure.  I could not imagine doing that until my friend Michael, a published books and poetry writer, told me several times that I really should write a book.  But the difference was that he also told me why I should—I had an entertaining way of telling stories and that he felt readers would enjoy reading them.  So I began to think about it, but knowing my limitations, I knew sitting down to write a manuscript wouldn’t happen even if my life depended on it.  I may be Chinese…but Amy Tan I am not.

I was speaking to Walter, another friend, a website business expert and blogs as well.  When I jokingly mentioned about me writing an autobiography, he was serious when he said I should.  But he suggested that I start a blog and not write chapters but blog articles.  With a blog, I didn’t have to write the whole book at once and could vary the blogs articles as I wished.  By George, I think he got it!!

So, here I am, naming my blog, Melanie’s Pandamonium, which is a play on the word “pandemonium.”  Not that my life is chaos, (at times it has been), but like I said, wide and varied and of course I had to include my favorite animal in the world – the Panda.  I hope you will be entertained from my stories and discussion on different topics, and in cases, I hope it helps too.  Not that I am a sage by any stretch of the imagination.  But sharing ideas, stories and thoughts might help others to help make their lives easier.  Just as I hope to learn things from other blogs.

If you read my ‘About Me’ Page, I am pure Chinese American.  Notice the “pure?”  I am 100% Chinese.  I didn’t think about that because all of my relatives—at least most of my generation, my parents’ generation and beyond are all 100% Chinese.  But when I was asked what else I had in me, that question perplexed me.  Hadn’t really thought of that angle that only Chinese ran in my blood for generations.  But now I know that in America that purity will soon cease, and a new mixture will rise to be the norm.  I am not surprised that all of my close friends have married another race, showing their openness to not being defined by their color.  I hope to follow in their footsteps soon.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, attended 42nd Street Elementary, Audubon Junior High, Dorsey and Alexander Hamilton High Schools.  I got my first car early when I attended West Los Angeles College during my senior high school year.  I went on to graduate from UCLA with a Psychology Bachelor’s Degree with a minor in Child Psychology, all prepared to become a pediatrician.  I attended Northeastern University School of Medicine in Tampico, Mexico and graduated with a medical degree.  However, during internship, a tragedy occurred with a 12-year patient that changed my world forever and I left medicine for a lot of soul searching.

Soul searching led to me trying out to become a mortgage loans broker, but soon realized that selling loans was not my thing.  Signing up as an accounting agency temp led to many jobs with different companies and to my first real adult job for a bank in the construction loan department where I soon became supervisor.  I advanced to work as a manager for several construction companies in the accounting departments and eventually became an assistant project manager.  Being really interested in construction I began studying for my contractor’s license.  My father was very proud of me when I achieved that in 1991.  Small ‘flip’ projects were really fun, just not glamorous as those shows on HGTV.  I will do larger flips in the future.

Volunteering ruled my life for a long time.  Starting out with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) because I was in construction accounting, I was a 25-year member and held every office on the Board (President, Vice President, Treasure, and Secretary) for the Chapter and also Chapter and Regional Committee Chairman for several committees.  My favorite committee was Membership; I loved recruiting new members.  This involvement led to one with Habitat for Humanity-Los Angeles, when our NAWIC chapter was recruited to participate in the Jimmy Carter Work Project in 1995 to build 21 homes in Watts.  I led a group of NAWIC volunteers who volunteered their time and all of the materials for one house.  Because of my project participation, I was asked to become a Board Member as Secretary for eight years and Chairman for two.  All during this time I was a Crew Volunteer Leader where I had a ball constructing at least 20 homes (outside of the Jimmy Carter Project).  My involvement with NAWIC also led to an involvement with Volunteer Center of Los Angeles (VCLA), where a speaker for one of my NAWIC meetings led to a friendship and an invitation to join the VCLA Board.  Since I was so proficient in being a Secretary (usually typing verbatim during the meetings) it was not difficult to hold that office for several years and eventually Chairman until the Center was purchased by another organization.

In my heydays, I was an avid skier.  Bouncing off of small to medium cliffs were no big thing to me and being a member of the UCLA Ski Club, I often skied in Lake Tahoe and numerous Colorado ski resorts for weeks at a time.  Being short really helped my skiing, because any falls I had were short and easy ones.  Then as I grew older and all my skiing friends married and had kids, I turned to dancing.  Although I was a dancer since I was five and never lost the beat.  I now keep listening to the Top 40 Hits and any other Oldies Music, continuing to dance whenever I can.

My favorite activity has always been crafts.  My wonderful mother taught me how to sew and knit when I was ten.  I have been sewing, knitting and crocheting since then doing hundreds of clothing for me and others, including two wedding parties’ dresses and other bridal dresses.  Through the years, I have added on scrapbooking, card-making and needlepoint.  I am always doing some sort of project.  Can’t stand waiting for appointments without something to do.

My First Blog Post

If YOU CAN dream it, YOU CAN do it.

Walt Disney

Hi!  Welcome to Melanie’s Pandamonium!!  This is the first posting on my new Lifestyle blog where I will be talking about my lifestyle, adventures and topics of interest. I’m just getting this new blog going, so I hope you will stay tuned for more. Please subscribe below to get notified when I post new articles.