What's the whole point of traveling?
Have you asked yourself that question? I certainly have. Before I take a trip, during the trip, and after the trip. I ask because I don't want myself to get lost in the motion of moving from one place to another, scanning through touristy sites, taking pictures, and dragging people along just to complete the full travel itinerary. I ask because I have gotten lost, only to realize how much I have missed out after the trip was done. I ask because I don't want to take this planet or the people that I travel with for granted.
My parents and I just got back from a 3-week, 7 cities, 4 countries trip to Scandinavia Europe. It was another amazing family trip for the books. I loved meeting friends who we haven't seen for a while in their native habitats and getting to know how they lived or felt about those places. I loved driving through farmlands with animals and fields of crops. I loved walking into local artisan shops and art galleries. I loved trying foods that I have never tasted before. I loved how cities in the same country can be so different. I loved how each city and country had its own personality. I felt lucky that I had the opportunity to take this trip. However, I did not like nor was I prepared for the ever-changing weather. I did not enjoy visiting one city for as little as one-day and then traveling to the next. I did not like unpacking and then packing for about 20 times. I did not like the invisible pressure of capturing architecture, nature, scenery, food, people, and selfies for social media and my own photo collection. I did not like that most of our conversations on the trip were about where to go and what to see next. I did not like how dispersed we were at times, when we were taking our own pictures at different spots.
I also have forgotten to observe the locals walking by who are carrying out their daily routines. I have forgotten to connect with them. I have forgotten to take a deep breath of the fresh air of a new city and country. I have forgotten to just stay still and soak in the culture, history, and soul of a new city and country. I have forgotten to savor the taste of a new cuisine slowly. I have forgotten to fully appreciate the people who I was traveling with. I have forgotten to hang onto those travel moments that happened then and there, and might not repeat again.
All of these feelings made me want to reflect on the question: "What is the point of traveling?" And when I look around, it seems like traveling has become something totally different in this day and age. For some, it's about collecting the number of cities/countries, passport stamps, experiences for bragging rights. Some travel to gather content for their social media platforms. Some travel mainly for photography. Some travel solely for business, moving from meeting spaces to hotels to restaurants. Some travel to specific places just to keep up with the trend and conversations. Some travel during certain holidays because others do. Some travel to hot places when their home turf is cold and to cold places when hot. Some travel just for specific sports and activities that they can do at certain places. Some travel out of obligations to visit certain people and maintain those connections in their lives.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with those reasons for traveling. I'm simply pointing out that some of us might have forgotten the purest purposes of traveling: to connect, explore, and experience other parts of the world. We travel for selfish reasons and it's always about what we can get from other parts of the world, whether it be pictures or gifts to show off. Rarely do we think about how we can contribute to the places that we visit. We act as if this planet is at our disposal and we go wherever as we please. We want comfort and luxury with a hint of adventure when we travel. We don't consider the environmental impact that we make as we travel, from the fuels that airplanes burn to single-use items in the hotel. I myself am very much guilty of all of these.
I just want us to reflect on why, how and where we travel. I want us to try and hold onto the purest purposes of traveling. I want us to think about how we can contribute instead of what we can get from the places that we travel to. I want us to take a moment to be still and fully appreciate the places and people that we visit. Instead of stressing out about what outfits to wear, I want us to consider ways that will minimize the impact on our environment as we travel. This will definitely be a challenge for all of us, but without our planet, there is no point in traveling.
The universe has definitely heard my frustration with people who mess up my name in person, over email and on the phone. In just one day, I have been called "Tin" twice and "Tina" once on emails from colleagues, and was mistaken for "Pang" by someone who I have talked to once on the phone. What a sarcastic gesture, universe!
In recent years, I have had multiple discussions with myself, friends, family, colleagues, and even ride-share drivers about the epidemic of people butchering names of others, especially those who have foreign names. I know that we all move really fast, so mistakes are bound to happen. And I know that Starbucks employees are notorious for putting the wrong name or spelling of a name on the cup, regardless of whether it's an American or foreign name.
However, what I am talking about here is specifically the treatment of foreigners who stick to using their foreign names in America. I am talking about people who either guess or choose to call a foreigner by a version of their name without permission. I am talking about people who do not ask a foreigner how and what they want to be called. I am talking about people who do not even want to try pronouncing or spelling a foreign name. I am talking about people who have been in constant communication with someone who uses their foreign name yet still make repeated mistakes with the name. I am talking about the pressure that are put on foreigners to change or omit parts of their foreign names so that our society has a whole has an easier time accepting them and their names.
Not to brag or anything, but I think I have the easiest name in the world. In terms of spelling, phonetic, the amount of letters, I would think "Ting Lin" is on the easier side in terms of Chinese names. And still, when I try to tell people my name in person or on the phone, I get "King", "Tina", "Tang", "ping", "sing", "zing", you name it. Through electronic communication, I often get "Tin" or "Tina" as my first name. Even better, I get called my last name "Lin" as my first name on emails so much that I'm starting to believe that's my first name lol. And for my full name, I get "Tin Ling" or "Ting Ling" a lot. Getting called my last name as my first name is the one that annoys me most. My name is in the "First Name, Last Name" order that most American names are in. If I ever put my last name first, I add a comma so it would look like "Lin, Ting". You wouldn't confuse "John Smith" and call him "Smith" instead of "John", so why do you do it to my name?
You might think this is something so trivial that it's not even worth discussing. I thought so too. I tried to act like it's cool and brush it off. And I probably have messed up someone's foreign name in the past. But if you think further, a name is more than just words that identify and differentiate one person from another. A name is something that a person carries with them all their lives, from birth to death. A name carries hopes of parents, depth of cultures, rich customs, meaningful objects, regions, nature, messages, sometimes religious connotations. A name becomes a person's identity, label, brand, business, reputation. A name signifies gender, or the lack thereof.
For example, my first name "Ting" was given by my grandmother. The left side of the Chinese character means "girl", the right side means "gazebo", and together you have an imagery of "a girl resting in a gazebo". And my name is only one variation of "Ting" as there are thousands of words that have the same sound but varies by the degree of tone and the composition of the characters within the word. My family name "Lin" has two characters that both mean "wood" so together, they make a forest. So essentially, when you mess up my name, you are messing with the beautiful and poetic imagery of "a girl resting in a gazebo in the woods". Like how dare you? Haha. My first name also can be interpreted into a phrase that means "a little girl growing up to be an independent woman who can stand on her own". And to think I gave all of this up when I first came to America and went by the name "Eileen". You see, it was a trend in China to have western names in the 90s. So when I got here, it felt natural to just transition into my English name. I used this name up until I finished high school.
I can't tell you how many times I have seen foreigners feeling embarrassed to say their full names, because of the complexity, sound, or length. I see them immediately provide their English names, or suggest to be called just by the first letters of their names, or omit parts of their names to accommodate the dazed and confused looks on people's faces. The foreigners feel as if without the accommodation, they will not be welcomed or accepted or remembered. And I don't think that's OK.
I think there's a layer of racism, ignorance, and prejudice embedded in this seemingly careless mistake. I think recognizing it as such is the first step to addressing our own biases. No, we are not horrible people just because we mess up someone's name. But we can and should be better if we want to move our society forward, to a place where everyone is treated with respect and love, regardless of where they are from. All it takes is a second glance at someone's name before we send the email, or ask someone if we are not sure how they want to be called, or a little effort to pronounce someone's name the right way. Don't make them feel like they have to change their names so they are easier on our tongues. Don't make them feel like fools trying to correct us on the spelling of their names for the 100th time. Don't make them feel unwelcome as they bravely spurt out their names. Let's take small steps so we can be the melting pot that we truly should be.
So I published an original song on October 2nd, 2018, which was my Stepdad David M. Werk's birthday. It wasn't exactly planned. We just so happened to finish it a few days before his birthday, so I thought to wait and announce it then. I guess it was meant to be: )
For those who don't know my history, my birth parents are Chinese (although we always get mistaken for Filipinos, so I will have to track our ancestry and confirm that later). But after their divorce, my mother came to America to pursue a whole new life and a second chance at love. She then met my stepdad-a tall, modest, funny, liberal, and cultured American man. Shortly after they started dating, I came to America. I remember one minute I was shaking Dave's hands at the front door of his Santa Monica house, then the next minute we were cracking up on a joke I uttered through my broken English. Dave and I bonded almost immediately, beyond culture, bloodline, age, and language. But I could have never imagined the father figure role that he willingly stepped into. He was the one that offered to pay for my vocal lessons after I decided to quit piano and take up singing. Not sure if quitting piano was the right decision (my mom could tell you her feelings on that), but I was proud that I made a choice on my own for the first time in my life. That's why it's so fitting that I release my very first original song-"Do You?", written and sung by me, on his birthday.
My journey to song-writing has been a very long one, about two decades to be exact. My music career started when I was four. I guess you can say that I fit the stereotype of "every Asian child plays an instrument" here in America, but since I grew up in China in the 90s, being able to study an instrument was actually a luxury. I played the electronic keyboard for about a year and then transitioned to real piano. After eight years of daily practice sessions, weekend lessons, recitals, tests, competitions, and moving the heavy piano from home to home, I decided that I was done. Perhaps it was my urge to become more "American". Perhaps it was teenage rebellion. Or perhaps I wanted to start a new chapter in my life. Whatever the reason, the decision was made to let go of piano and almost immediately welcomed singing into my life. And I'm sure I broke many hearts when that happened(Sorry mom and dad!)
Singing was a way of life for me in China. Almost every other weekend or occasion or celebration, we were in karaoke rooms. Those rooms were not just a place to sing, but also a place to share the love of music with friends and family; a place to dance; a place to let loose and be playful a place to grub on savory snacks(healthy and unhealthy) and sip on drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). It was there that I sang before I could speak. During this early stage of exploring my voice, I was surrounded by encouragement and support from family. My parents were not musicians themselves, but their love of music was very apparent. I remember hearing records of Ace of Base play randomly on a weekday afternoon or being waken up to Michael Jackson's voice on a quiet summer morning. I was exposed to American 90's pop music while serenading to Chinese classics from 70s and 80s. Because of this rich musical experience growing up: classical piano training, karaoke rooms, Chinese and English pop music in the house, it seemed natural that I started vocal training. My singing voice that you hear now is the result of a few years of vocal lessons with a Broadway/contemporary vocal coach during high school plus a few years of coaching from an Opera singer and Doctor of music in recent years. Why don't I sound as good as Celine Dion by now? Well, I have no clue. Probably because I didn't do vocal exercises consistently. Or maybe I just wasn't born with that type of voice.
Either way, I don't want to sound like another Celine Dion, or Beyonce, or Rihanna. I don't think the audience wants to listen to another carbon copy, but an original. This took me years to realize. I remember the negative self-talk of "Oh I can't become her so why bother"; "I can't sing those high notes"; "I can't do runs"; "I'm not really a singer"; "I can't write music, I should stick to singing covers". If I didn't pull myself out of that black hole of negativity, then you wouldn't see the confident woman and artist that I am today. And honestly, there is beauty to how I create my music today, free of self-doubt (almost) and focusing on the artistry rather than the commercialization of it. I am defining my own rules and creating music that I believe in. My goal is to put out music that is more reflective of the world and life that we live in, which is more complex than just heart breaks and weekend raves. I want listeners to either take a pause and reflect, or get on their feet and dance!
So here it is, the journey behind the song. Often times, it's easy for people to judge an end product, deciding that they like or do not like something based on their feelings and perceptions. But I think as artists, it is essential for us to bring our audience into the journey, giving them insights to the purpose of the creation and the person who created it. This is not just simply a song, but a culmination of a lifetime of experiences, training, and love for music. I wanted to share this journey to say that I did not do this alone. From my birth parents, to my stepdad, to my piano teachers, to my vocal coaches, to all the musicians I have collaborated with (including David Perez who strummed the first chords on his guitar which inspired "Do You?"), to my friends turned fans and supported me along the way, to all the critics, they have all contributed to this point in my journey. I also want to emphasize the power of positive self-talk. Whoever you tell yourself that you are, you will become. You have to really believe it and work hard for it. It's not magic. But sometimes stepping out of your own way is the first step to success. This is something that I have improved on but still have to keep working on. Lastly, I want to say that it is important for us to recognize the things in our lives that we feel passionate about and that fuel us. Yes they might not seem reasonable to pursue at the moment or bring us immediate monetary incentive, but with persistence, I believe the universe will listen and respond one day.