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.
Wow, come to think of it, I have embarked on this "Fashion" journey for a decade now. From my first day entering America in an all-denim ensemble, to styling and modeling my own fashion shoots all over New York. From working at "Charlotte Russe" as a seasonal sales associate, to walking the contemporary sales floor of the iconic "Saks Fifth Avenue" flagship store. From learning how to sew in a straight line to creating my graduation collection, which included metal cages. From assisting the VP of marketing at a home textile company, to now being the right hand of law firm partners whose clients come from the high fashion or high tech worlds. And never did I imagine that I would go from being the five-year-old who had an opinion of what she wanted to wear, to now helping other grown adults figure out what to wear.
"Fashion consultant" is still a title that I am learning to embrace. I embarked on this path to build a deeper level of relationship with fashion, people, and myself. Prior to this path, I have always felt like an outsider looking in the fashion industry as if it was a snow globe. I admired it but never felt like I understood it nor was a part of it. Often times, I felt like it was reserved only for the selected few: those who have the money to spend; those who know the right people; those who live and breath fashion everyday; those who follow the fashion rules. So I guess this path is really for me to immerse myself in the nitty-gritty aspects of everyday fashion. I want to understand the different types of relationships that people have with fashion. I want to help enhance the benefits and resolve challenges that fashion present to people. I want to become someone that people feel comfortable "consulting" in regards to how they reveal themselves to the world. I want to see fashion beyond just fabric on our bodies.
So far, this path has been very rewarding for me in terms of building that deeper connection with fashion, people and myself.
I have always admired fashion as an art form, even before I studied fashion design. I would go to every fashion exhibit or show that I know of, snapping pictures at every outfit and description that is displayed, feeling that creative juice flowing after. I would stop and stare at extravagant fashion window displays, sticking my nose up to the glass in an attempt to examine closely. I would flip through and tear out pages from magazines to be used as inspiration for my "future designs". I would drool over red carpet dresses while watching the pre-award show broadcast, admiring the beautiful people that are flaunting familiar designer names, wishing my name was one of them. But this, this is different. This is clothing people in real life, not at the "la la land". This is dressing real bodies that are of varied heights, sizes, shapes, skin shades, personal tastes and lifestyles, not the models and celebrities who have unattainable body ideals and calendar of events. This is getting down to business; doing research online and conducting analysis of the outfits; using fashion terminology to explain different styles; going to retail stores and looking through every piece of clothing available, then conducting a trial-and-error session with the client as they try on options; this could be sensory overload as sight, hearing, touch, and maybe even smell are all heightened during the experience. This is fashion at its core. This is putting the "clothing" part of fashion back into focus.
What I have realized through my work is that more than ever before, both men and women care about the way they look.
For women, most of us were taught to wear our "self-value" on our sleeves since birth, so appearance has become a very important part of who we are. A lot of us have invested heavily on clothing, accessories, make-up, hair products to achieve the beauty ideals imposed to us from the media, society, family and peers. There are abundant, manufactured resources that guide women in fashion and beauty, online and offline. But some women are saying: "That's not good enough for me." They are learning to recognize themselves as individuals who need personalized and healthy guidance on how they should look. It warms my heart that I have seen many women accept who they are, but strive to be better versions of themselves and to love themselves more. They are asking for what looks good on their bodies, instead of wanting to change their bodies for the clothes. I feel that as a woman who possess fairly healthy body image and lots of confidence, I have a responsibility to share that with other women, so that they can lead successful careers and fulfilling lives.
For men, I believe outer appearance was not embedded in their early education. I am sure there are men who have gone through struggles with their body images, but comparatively, men were more focused on their achievements rather than picking out the socks that would complement their shoes. I think it's because of that, there are not as much resources to guide men in terms of appearance than for women. And a lot of men simply don't care nor have time to keep up with the online tutorials on "how to dress to impress". From what I have observed, most men know that they are individuals and require customization for what they need. They either have their own styles and want to add pieces to enhance those styles, or start from scratch to reinvent themselves, or they just want to take their appearance to the next level by working with a professional who can offer a fresh perspective. As much as we want to think that: "oh men are simple, they will figure it out", the truth is that men also need guidance in building confidence, healthy body image, and a wardrobe that serves every stage of their lives.
For me, embracing the "fashion consultant" identity has been exciting, challenging, and rewarding.
With this newfound understanding of fashion, I realize there is a lot more for me to learn not just in terms of the styling aspect, but also people and their different needs. I consider this position an important one as it can better people's perception of themselves and their lives. I look forward to going on different journeys with many of you. Thank you in advanced for being vulnerable and allowing me to get a glimpse of your lives. I will do the same: )
Your fashion consultant-Ting
Last month, I went back to China after being away for 4 years. My country was "calling" for me and I was yearning for it, like a long-distance lover. It comforts my soul to visit the country that I first took breath in. Every time I go back, it reminds me of a part of myself that is often forgotten here in America. And I miss my dad a lot. Regardless of his flaws, he was once my best friend during my childhood. His mother, my paternal grandmother, is now the only living grandparent that I have. They were "calling" for me as well and I could feel it.
So off I went. After about twenty hours of flying and ten hours of driving, I finally arrived at my hometown, Zhanjiang, southern part of the Canton province. This city has experienced drastic transformation in the last two decades. However, so much has changed yet so much stays the same. Every time I walk these streets, a feeling of familiarity came over me. I was so excited to see everyone, but part of me was getting ready for some family drama and cultural shock. Yes I said cultural shock. I have been disconnected from my culture naturally because I live in a whole different country. But part of that disconnect was intentional on my part. Let's just say some customs and ways of thinking have rooted in its people for thousands of years, even if they no longer serve the purpose of its people.
What I am talking about is sexism. I know people don't like to hear that word nor do they like to acknowledge they are sexists, but the core of Chinese culture is sexist, there is no other way to describe the fact. Yes it's the twenty-first century. Yes women are supposed to be treated equally as men. Yes women are getting more opportunities and rights. However, it will still be a long way before gender equality can be achieved, especially in China. It's a well-known fact that China had the "one-child" policy to control the population. It is also no secret that because of this policy, many parents aborted or abandoned the daughters in favor of the sons. Luckily, that was not the case with my parents, or else I would not be alive and giving you all a piece of my mind today. But this gender-preference is like the elephant in the room, everyone knows it's there, but no one wants to acknowledge it or take it out.
So my grandmother has been requesting for a grandson from my dad, her oldest son, for a few years now. Just think about that for a second. A parent somehow feels like she has the power to tell her child what to do; ordering him to produce children of a certain sex like ordering food off of a menu. What's worse, she nags about it like a broken record while I was there. I couldn't take it anymore and had to confront this near eighty-year-old woman, knowing that her mind still lives in the 1930s and will not get out of that time period anytime soon. I said: "so am I not good enough for you as a granddaughter?" She immediately said no and that she loves all her granddaughters, but she thinks a grandson will bring my father and the family good luck. I said: "Well my younger male cousin is your grandson." She said: "Well that it's different" without telling me why. I knew it's because he is the son of my aunt, her daughter. Somehow he doesn't count.
So then she went on to talk about how only a son can carry on the family name. I understand that some women change their family names to that of their husbands' when they get married. But I know for a fact that will not be the case for me. So I told her that I will carry on our family name even after I get married. This is when she became quiet. She was either mad or had no come-back for what I said. I mean how do you explain why only men could carry on family names in this new age? Are they physically or mentally more capable of signing their family names on a piece of paper? If anything, women live seven years longer than men on average. That's seven more years of family-name-carrying. And why is it that the family heritage of a man is valued over a woman's? Why does a woman have to feel like she has to "marry into" a man's family; abandoning her family name, parents, and heritage? Why do the parents of a daughter have to feel like they have "transferred over" or "lost" her once she is married? This interaction with my grandmother has really stirred up all these questions in me. It makes me wonder why I should carry on the Lin family name when I am pretty much carrying patriarchy on my back. Why can't I honor my mother's Huang family in the same manner? What has the Lin family done that is worth honoring more than the Huang family?
Something else I discovered was that the printed Lin family book was biased and inaccurate. For one, it left my aunt out of the book, stating that my grandparents only had two sons. It's as if she never existed. I, on the other hand, was lucky enough to be listed in the book probably because I was a firstborn and of a more recent generation. But what about my dad's other children, especially the "unborn grandson" that my grandmother longs for? Would they reprint the whole book or put in an "addendum" section for the family book if he was ever born? So what good is a family book if it doesn't track accurate information of all the people who contributed to the family history?
Honestly, none of this should have surprised me as I know the deal. But coming face-to-face with sexism is something that I can never get used to nor want to accept. I know that the fault does not lie entirely in the people but the history, culture, and society which have influenced its people. What a lot of people don't realize though, is that they have the power to challenge the deep-rooted culture if it no longer serve themselves and others. Ultimately, it's up to the people to change history, culture and society. Of course it's easier said than done, but it all starts with the heart and mind that refuse to accept the status quo. No matter how advanced and developed a country portrays itself to be, if the heart and mind of the people don't progress and evolve with it, the country ultimately still stays in the past.
I love my country, culture, and family. But I refuse to carry on the patriarchy, sexism, inequality, and ignorance associated with a family name.