Updated usually on Mondays and/or Thursdays!

Monday, August 8, 2016

An End for a New Beginning Part 1: The Psychology Behind Fashion and the Truths of Beauty and Self-Worth


Hello everyone! I hope you're all having a fantastic, relaxing summer. I definitely am! I don't think I've had this much freedom from responsibilities since middle school. Simply said, I'm totally enjoying it. I move into my dorm in 6 weeks, so I've still got some time to be lax. It's funny because I'm realizing how lazy and relaxed I can be when I want to be hehe. I like that I'm literally just chilling out for once. On the contrary though, many of my friends are beginning school as soon as next week. We'll soon be swamped back into our academic and social circles which is both stressful and exciting. And speaking of this upcoming school year, I have very important, bittersweet news to share with you all.

Alas...here it is. Acknowledging that I'll be very busy transitioning into a new chapter of my life and Diana going abroad in a few months, we have decided that it is best to stop doing Letrendary once my summer break ends. As much as we love pouring our hearts into this blog, we don't think we'd be able to deliver posts on a normal basis when we aren't together. Since the next few posts will be our last, we are making it a series called An End for a New Beginning. Here's Part 1. Enjoy!


For today's post, I feel inspired to be more personal with you guys about my recent thoughts on style, fashion, confidence, and self-worth. Since we began Letrendary, my personal style as well as my mentality toward fashion has continued to change and grow. Even more importantly, I've seen my confidence and self-worth both strengthen and weaken in many ways. It has been a journey to say the least, and I want to open up so you can see more of who I am behind the outfits and pictures you're used to seeing here. 
So to begin, I'll just discuss how my personal style has subtly evolved. I used to really like preppy and delicate clothing, but now I'd much rather opt for something that's comfortable and casual. In the past, I would have worn skirts and blouses like the one that's pictured here on the daily. The next two outfits you'll see in this post are more representative of my style though. They are much more simple and casual...maybe even unfashionable to some of you. I usually wouldn't showcase such simple outfits like those because they aren't really anything special, but I think it's important to be honest about my style with you guys. I want to be honest so you know that I am not as much of the girly-girl that I used to be. I want to be honest so you know that the world 'fashionable' has a very flexible definition and it is ultimately defined by you! While I still love dresses and skirts, I do think my style is becoming more urban, simple, and comfortable.
The next thing I want to talk about is what I DO NOT like about fashion.

While fashion is inspiring and amazing because it reflects culture, personality, and creativity, it can also be distracting because it is so materialistic. I've had to draw the line for how much I value fashion. It has personally been an important challenge of mine not be so attached to my clothing because it's just material. This may sound dumb to many of you if you aren't attached at all to your clothes, but for me, it's been a challenge.

As a fashion blogger, I think it's important for me to say this because people in the fashion industry will usually only talk about the positives of clothing and fashion...but there are serious negatives that are actually much more psychological. 
I really despise how materialistic fashion can be. People take so much pride in flaunting their pricey outfits and brand-named items. I admit that I am a victim of this. I like brand-named things because it makes me feel wealthier and it boosts my confidence. When I see a mediocre-designed dress and then see that it has a designer's name on it, I automatically become five times more appealed to it. Actually writing out the psychological thoughts and emotions I get from fashion is so odd. I feel like a total idiot writing this out...but IT IS SO TRUE! It is nearly despicable how much people can base their confidence and self-worth on how expensive their bag is or how many new clothes they wear each week. THIS is the part of fashion that I have been trying so hard to stay away from. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's bad to own designer-brand handbags or buy new clothes because I do too. It is, however, unhealthy to see how addicted people can be to materialism. Even more, it's discouraging to see how people consider themselves better than others because they have things that other people cannot afford and would be jealous about. I don't believe in measuring beauty in money, and I have to constantly remind myself of that. Especially being in Southern California of all places, it can be easy to forget.
As you probably know, I love layering simple jewelry.

So speaking of beauty, the last thing I want to share with you guys is about confidence and self-worth. Fashion can be both a real booster and a downer when it comes to confidence and self-worth. I honestly can't even count that times it's been a downer for me. Quite often, I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, "This makes me look fat," "I can't pull this off," "I need to lose weight." I've been telling myself these things as long as I can remember, and all I can say is that it has gotten progressively worse as I've grown up. Why? Well, all we see on social media are body goals, outfit goals, and relationship goals, etc. GOALS, GOALS, GOALS. It's not wrong to admire others, but it's more about the psychological consequences that occur when people measure their self-worth on what society defines as beautiful and perfect. 
All this to say, I know I'm not the only one who has self-image issues--nearly all women do and most men do too. It's a part of us. I hope you know that you're not the only one that sometimes doesn't like what you see in the mirror. I hope you know that you don't need to be ashamed of that fact that you aren't happy with yourself all the time. All of us already know that we should base our beauty on who we are on the inside. I don't need to tell you that. That's actually what we always hear.  Things like ,"all that matters is how beautiful you are on the inside." It's completely true and it's reassuring, but I always put myself down again after I hear that. And it's because we never really hear that it's totally normal to be unhappy with the way you look and that radiating the best in you takes a LOT of time, effort, and healing. It's also because we don't realize that there are actually solutions to boosting our confidence in which case we're stuck in our own dissatisfaction. Empowerment is a challenge for every individual. I'm still working on it!
Sooo I'm still going to end this on a couple of cliché but fundamental truths. First and foremost, the foundation of beauty is who we are inside. That will always outshine your outward appearance no matter how much media counters that fact. Second, I still believe that fashion is more empowering than hurtful. If you wear clothes that you're comfortable in, it'll naturally make you more confident. Third, materialistic things can never ever replace the value and power of relationships. In other words, your relationships with your family, your friends, and your community is so much more fulfilling and meaningful than things like clothes or cars. Don't ever forget that! And in conjunction with this point, our beauty shines brightest when we understand and live out that principle. Showing love, grace, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness is the most basic yet maybe the most challenging solution to boosting our confidence and self-worth.   



In the next post, I'll be sharing the things I have been doing to see and show the best in me! What's amazing is that we don't even know the fullest extent of who we are. It's miraculous how much we can learn about ourselves as we grow up.

Thanks so much for reading and I hope this post in some ways has got you thinking or was encouraging. Make sure to comment or email us if you have any questions, requests, or ideas for the final series.

Keep shining!




Monday, August 1, 2016

Travel Diary #6: China, Again

Travel Diary #6: China, again
Guiyang night scene
Hi everyone! Letrendary will be going through some major changes in the next few months, but that's another post for another time. I just got back from two weeks in China, and though I recently wrote about my Chinese heritage on The Odyssey here, I figured I'd do a specific post reflecting on the trip.


Stop #1: Wuhan
We were on a whirlwind schedule of almost a city a day, so we only stayed in Wuhan for one day. Mainly, we went to visit family and to burn zhiqian (joss paper/fake money) on my grandpa's grave, since all the family members on his side of the family lives near Wuhan.
Zhiqian
Here are some pictures of my family, including my adorable nephew.






Wuhan was so hot that I felt like I was back in Singapore again. Thank goodness there was a room in my great-uncle's house that had an air conditioner. Hallelujah for technology.

I had just finished reading The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley, and she had talked about how as a culture we have to respect education first if we want to ever advance in it. As I noticed the academic certificates decorating the dirt-stained walls of my great-uncle's house, I couldn't help but agree. It is the way that China, like Finland and South Korea, cultivate a devotion and appreciation for education from toddlers to old men that has helped foster a drive in those countries' students that allowed them to score among the highest test scores in the world. 



We were treated to wonderful Wuhan food, both home-cooked (above) and at the restaurants where we had dinner and breakfast the next morning.



The noodles here, called 炸酱面, are one of the most famous dishes of Wuhan.

The next day, we were scheduled to leave for Guiyang to drop off the bulk of our luggage at my grandma's house. That morning, we went to a huge park bordering a nearby river. Wuhan had suffered from severe floods in the beginning of July, and you can see in the picture below just how much of the city succumbed to the waters. Even with sidewalks buried and lampposts half-drenched, people still swam in the river--understandable, given how excruciatingly hot the city is.





Stop #2: Xi'an
Technically, we went to Guiyang before we went to Xi'an, but since it was only to drop things off (and we returned to Guizhou later), I'm counting Xi'an as our next stop.

We stayed in Xi'an for three days, mainly to finally embark on a grand exploration of Chinese history. Xi'an is home to the famous terracotta soldiers.



I won't say too much here, as my head is still pounding from jetlag, but the basic story of the terracotta soldiers is this: Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor, was so drunk on power that he ordered the creation of an entire underground city with officials, magistrates, and, most importantly, an army. To defend the city from invasion. He'd wanted to achieve immortality, and some people say that he drank toxic materials to do so, ironically dying in the process. Most of the tomb is actually not excavated because 1) much of the city was built was materials like wood, which rot as soon as they come in contact with air after 2,000+ years suffocated by dirt, and 2) there is a mercury river slithering through the city, and it could be poisonous, toxic, however you want to call it. The story of Qin Shi Huang is a violent, thunderous one, echoed by the corpses of workers who bled on the terracotta soldiers they so frightfully crafted. No terracotta soldier is the same, and our tour guide said that all Chinese men have faces matched by a soldier. It's a bit unsettling, isn't it, to know that who you are was engraved with peasants' blood over 2,000 years ago, and left to rot in an underground city dug in with the remnants of psychopathic dreams?




Archaeologists work at the site every day, assembling limbs together and unmasking colors. Yes, once upon a time, the soldiers were dusted with vibrancy. Soon, the hope is that we'll be able to restore those colors for not just the soldiers but also the horses and chariots.

At Xi'an, we stayed in 华清宫, a palace where a concubine of a Tang dynasty emperor spent her days. Legend has it that Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei, the lover, were so enamored that the emperor neglected his country until An Lushan attacked, ripping apart the grandeur of the Tang Dynasty so that the most glorious days of Chinese history became nothing more just that: history. In fact, there was a famous dance performance telling this legend at the palace every night. We got free tickets as hotel guests, and I'm not going to lie, I was not very impressed. The technical aspects were incredible, with fantastic waterworks and one scene where the entire Li Mountain in the back was projected with stars, but the story itself was poorly told, with two huge dance numbers spent on things like Yang Guifei taking a bath...

The hotel in the palace was an unforgettable experience, though. The breakfast buffet had these cute buns:

The lobby was superbly decorated:

And by the way, the palace is famous for its hot springs, naturally warmed by an inactive volcano. AND EVERY ROOM HAD ITS OWN HOT SPRING. Okay, I think I burned myself in one, but still, what luck. 

The inside of our room. If you look closely, you can see the hot spring well in the back, past the door.
Oh yeah, and I got to wake up to this every morning:

The palace, being a historical site, also had some interesting landmarks:
The view atop Li Mountain, right behind the Palace
One of the pools that concubines bathed in. I don't remember if this one is Star Pool, but with the way the light glimmers in the water, it's clear why at least one of the pools was called "Star Pool."

Lovers and families alike would put up charms using red ribbons on this tree in the Palace.

We also had some awesome Qin Dynasty-themed food (the character on the food is "Qin"):


They had period costumes you could try on, so my mom and I both did :D

 Xi'an is also famous for its dumplings:
Squid dumplings!!


Dumpling shaped like an almond!
The last thing we did in Xi'an was climb Hua Mountain, a famously steep mountain. Unfortunately, my brother got sick, so he and my dad stayed at the visitor center while my mom and I embarked on a 2-hour long hike between cliffs.




People tied locks with red ribbons to the rails of the trail for protection

We were lucky--our hike was mostly downhill. If we'd been going the other way... I might not have made it back. xD Also, parts of the trail kind of reeked of urine.... *sighs* It was still epic, though.
So many tourists = so many vendors, including two for absurdly long kites!
Stop #3: Guizhou
Then we returned to our home province, where most of my family is! I hung out with the son of my dad's friend and as I talked with him and his friends, I began to realize for the first time how thoroughly the West has shaped my mindset. Not in a "I AM FREE AND YOU ARE NOT!!!" way, but in a more subtle way, like how sometimes I longed for the type of close-knit communities that Chinese high schools fostered (students lived at the school), or how I had become so dependent on things like Google that without it I felt stuck, rooted to quicksand that I wasn't sure I should escape from.

We went to the rural village where my paternal grandparents still live and met up with my cousins.

On the right: my brother and two cousins
I uh... did a stupid thing. I was chasing my brother and two of my cousins so that I could get a good photo of those three, roughly the same age and height, with brother-like faces, so that when they're older they can have something to look back on. Being the teenagers that they are, they evaded me by running across the rice paddies. To catch up, I decided to take a shortcut, but I chose an extremely thin path so that one moment I was looking through my camera's viewfinder and the next I'd fallen waist-deep into rice paddy mud. So my camera took a long time to recover, meaning that this is the last picture I have:
My cousin, 10, running to catch up with my brother and two of the male cousins (see if you can spot them)
So we went to many more places, like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, but I don't have any pictures. I could have taken photos with my phone, yes, but at that point I realized I just wanted to live in the moment. Special shout out to Cynthia for being our awesome guide in Hong Kong.

That's it, then. Another two weeks gone. This time, coming back felt a bit different than before. I'm leaving for college next year, and my parents said that we probably won't be going back to China again until four years later, when my brother graduates high school. But it's not that I'm feeling nostalgic, heart already scooped out by the memories I left behind. It's more that... this time, I felt a sort of lingering loneliness that I hadn't felt before. My parents and my brother and I, we're the only ones in our family living here in the States, and while that's hardly an atypical immigrant experience, it's something I never really thought about before. But this time, so embraced by family members, so cared for by friends, I've begun to feel sadness creep into my veins like I had been breathing it in all along and only just now noticed. I guess now that I'm finally out of high school and have time to think, I'm realizing the weight of emptiness here, glued to the hallways of our house, the empty backseats of the car, the apple trees in the backyard bearing too many apples for us to ever eat.

But though it feels empty here, sometimes, that feeling at least reassures me that I am not empty. And that's all I could really ask for, I guess. A heart so crammed full of stories and people that the emptiness around me is all the more despairing. Because it reminds me of my own mortality, in a gentle way, so that I take for granted nothing.

Warmly, quietly, proudly,