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What Christmas is like with an Asian Mom

What Christmas is like with an Asian Mom

Growing up, I dreamed of a Christmas like the one I saw in the movies. A big shining tree, a table surrounded with family, a house decorated in lights, and most of all the anticipation of waking up on Christmas morning to a tree filled with presents just for me.

Well, with my Asian mom around, all of the above seldom happened.

My Irish dad expected his wife to be in charge of making Christmas a joyous, holiday season — just like his mother did for him as a child. Instead of do it himself, my dad (like most men) had the unsaid expectation for my mom to accomplish all these things for his children. read more

Why 2017 Was the Craziest Year of My Life… With a 2018 Surprise

Why 2017 Was the Craziest Year of My Life… With a 2018 Surprise

I just have to say that 2017 was undoubtedly the craziest, yet also most unforgettable, year of my life.

My aunt told me that I had more life events happen in 2017 than people have in their entire lifetime.  She’s totally right, because…

I Had Lots of Big Life Events…

Getting married on a mountain… no big deal

In 2017, I planned and executed a wedding while concurrently completing an intensive graduate degree in international relations.

Graduate school, as I mentioned, was really hard but worth every penny.  Learning about international relations changed my life for the better, and now I suddenly see the whole world with a new lens.  I don’t regret grad school one bit.

Planning a wedding while going to graduate school, on the other hand, really sucked.  I not only had a strict budget to stick to, but I also had to coordinate a Utah wedding from California.  Yet thanks to my friends, family, husband and the best maid of honor a woman could ever ask for (shout out to you, H!), I survived my wedding.

I had my perfect dream wedding.  I got married in the mountains of my home state with the man I love.  I couldn’t ask for more.

Some of my favorite bloggers (Marta and Learn to Love Anywhere) were even more hardcore than me and coordinated two weddings on two continents (and with no complaints)!  Autumn of East Dates West had not one, but ALL of her groomsmen drop out of the wedding!  Props to you girls–and here I thought my wedding was tough!

….Lots of Moving….

Summer in Utah
Newport Beach for Thanksgiving
Fall in Minnesota
…and winter in Portland.

In addition to marriage and grad school, in 2017 I moved a total of ten times.  From Socal, to Norcal, back to Socal, to Salt Lake City, then Minnesota, San Francisco, and now Portland–I’ve been goddamn everywhere.  Honestly, looking at my suitcase makes me feel physically ill.

My husband thought taking short-term contracts around the country would give me flexibility to look for a job anywhere in the USA.  I thought it was a great idea, but in the end, our nomadic lifestyle put an immense amount of strain on our well-being.

In 2017, I realized just how important it is to have a home and some sense of stability.  I never thought I’d say this (especially since my blog is called the Ruby Ronin ((wanderer)) but; dear, god, I just want to settle down.

…insane amounts of traveling..

Hello Nagasaki, Japan!
Now I’m back in L.A.!?
Now we’re in Vietnam!? Wha?

In addition to visiting way too many cities and states in the USA (Minnesota, Washington DC, San Diego, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Portland), I also went on many trips abroad.

I thought I would have few opportunities to travel after leaving Asia.

Oh, how wrong I was.

This year alone I went to Ireland, Japan, Vietnam and China–with the last three vacations happening in the span of one month!  I’ve already written up some posts about my journey through Northern Ireland and Northwest Ireland, but more posts will follow chronicling our trips to Kyushu, Hanoi and Saigon.

…as well as many interviews on the road…

…I even had one interview in Utah at H’s house, with her cat providing moral support

As I moved and traveled around the USA and world, I was also looking for a job.

I conducted an interview over Skype in a hotel in Fukuoka City, Japan.  I completed another interview in Ho Chi Minh, City, Vietnam.  Another interview was done mere hours after my landing in the USA from Vietnam.  Two interviews were done in hotel rooms on the road.

If I have advice to anyone job hunting, it’s this:

Don’t travel (too much) while you’re job hunting

It was REALLY stressful to coordinate across different time zones, find a stable connection, and most of all secure a quiet place to conduct the interview.  There were at least three instances where I spent money in Japan and Vietnam to book my own private hotel room to execute a Skype interview.

Don’t do what I did.  Stay in one place when you’re job hunting.  It helps… a lot.

Which, Finally, Leads to My Big Surprise of 2018

I’m pregnant.




Just kidding!  But believe me, this news is almost as shock inducing…



….I’m moving to Texas.

You know that platitude about “you never know where life will take you”?

Well, holy hell, coming back from China I could not even imagine that I would move halfway around the USA and end up in Texas.  None.  At.  All.

Although I experienced some inner turmoil with the decision to take the Texas job, I went with it.  I won’t go into details, but I will be working for a huge private firm in their Japanese business department.

Texas was definitely not high on my ‘places to live’ list, but I’m trying to be positive with the move.  I think Texas will pleasantly surprise me and give me a kick start to a new beginning in 2018.

More than anything–after all these months of being a nomad–I’m particularly looking forward to one life change in particular:

Having a permanent home.

Happy New Year Everyone!  明けましておめでとうございます!新年快乐! read more

Resolutions for 2015 and my Favorite Posts of 2014

Resolutions for 2015 and my Favorite Posts of 2014

Before I delve into 2015, let’s look back at the resolutions I kept (and dropped) in 2014:

I did travel!
  • Learn French.
  • Take a class in web design and economics.
  • Find an amazing job in the USA (although it’s not very amazing)
  • Keep up the habit of going to the gym 3 times a week, aim to run for an hour nonstop (can do 30 mins now, up the score!)
  • Take the GRE.
  • Grow out my hair.  It looks good short I must admit, but I do miss having my long black locks.
  • Continue to write, and publish an article!
  • Volunteer!  Find an organization in Shanghai or the USA, sign up, and go help others! (volunteered on Thanksgiving and have joined a volunteer Meetup group in my neighborhood).
  • Practice J-E interpreting 3 times a week, C-E once a week
  • Learn how to properly, and effectively, invest money (I purchased my first stocks this year)
  • Travel somewhere new (have plans of Thailand in March, so this one’s definitely going to happen!) (Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore–you were amazing!)
  • read more

    How to Get An Asian Boyfriend in China and Japan

    How to Get An Asian Boyfriend in China and Japan

    See, I got one!
    See, I got one!

    I’ve dated men all across Asia—Korea, Japan, China, and even Vietnam. Although I was told that western women weren’t the rage in Asia, I proved the non-believers wrong. With just three easy steps, I was able to score a slew of dates, a few boyfriends and even two proposals.

    A Little Background…

    In a village far, far away...
    In a village far, far away…

    I was living abroad for the first time ever in Japan at the ripe age of 22, newly single and ready to try the dating scene in Asia. The appeal of dating a local not only for the cultural and language benefits, but also for the novelty, was exciting. What would my friends and family say if I dated a Japanese person—or, better yet, married one?

    “Forget it,” my senpai, the veteran English teachers in the area, told me. “Japanese men aren’t interested in foreigners. Especially ones that have black hair, like you. Japanese men want exotic. They want blondes.”

    “We’ve been here five years and have yet to go on a date,” the other teacher said, the cynicism thick in her voice. “Japanese women love white guys, but the same can’t be said about the Japanese men.”

    And then, the ultimatum.

    “Mary, you will never get a Japanese man while you’re here.”

    At a loss for words, I politely excused myself and went back to my apartment. After a recent, and rather horrific breakup with my ex-boyfriend, I wasn’t exactly on the prowl for a man right away.

    But never?

    While many people argue that it’s easier for white men to get an Asian girlfriend, I think it’s just as ‘easy’ to get an Asian boyfriend.

    Here are some tips that I found work for getting some dates (and even a boyfriend) in China and Japan.

    Step 1: Say Hello


    In other words, don’t wait for a man to come by and buy you a drink. In the west it’s normal for men to approach women they don’t know for a date, but in Asia this is still very much a foreign concept. Most of my Chinese and Japanese friends met their significant other through the introductions of friends and family—they didn’t ask out a girl on the street.

    Basically, Asian men rarely walk up to a woman they don’t know and ask her out for a drink or coffee.

    And if that woman happens to be a foreigner? They’re even more apprehensive.

    My best pick up line in Japan was literally “hello.” If I was sitting at a bar and a cute Japanese guy was next to me, I’d smile and say “hello.” These simple greetings of hello led to fun conversation, phone numbers, and a few dates (one of these encounters is still my friend—we’ve been talking now for 5 years!).

    Don’t wait for love to come to you in Asia. Asian men are probably interested in you, but the combination of being shy and the taboo around asking out a stranger probably make it difficult for him to get the guts to talk to you. A little hello never hurt anyone.

    My second best line in Japan? “Can you speak English? No? Let me help” ;P

    Step 2: Speak the Language

    Chinese lessons, anyone?
    Chinese lessons, anyone?

    Well, if the conversation stops at Hello that doesn’t help much, does it?

    While many Japanese and Chinese people speak English rather well nowadays, it’s still very crucial to speak their language. In Japan, many of the men I went on dates with were thoroughly interested in me because I spoke Japanese—and spoke it well. More than that, I think they were touched that someone from afar was so interested in their country and culture.

    And if things were to escalate beyond just a date, understanding the language of your partner is a must. Even if communication is mainly in English, the attempt at trying to understand his culture through language study will mean a lot to him.

    My boyfriends weren’t just touched that I spoke these languages, either—they were impressed. They not only respected me, they were proud of me.

    Step 3: Don’t Find Love in a Club (or anywhere where you’re quite drunk)

    photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc
    photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

    Like the popular Rihanna song, western culture has taught us “find love in a hopeless place” (aka, club).  Most young women in America believe that putting on your best dress, curling your hair, plastering on some make-up and standing at the bar will help you get a date.

    While it is possible to get a date using the Rihanna song method, the date will most likely last 24 hours or less and will not develop into boyfriend material.

    In Japan and China men don’t like to meet the woman of their dreams in a bar. In fact, most Chinese men (or at least, the ones you want to meet) don’t even frequent bars. While getting drunk is considered a fun outing in the west, in Asia it is very taboo for a woman to get sloshed in a bar or club.

    And most of all, the chances you’ll find a man with similar values and interests inebriated in a dimly lit dance club are some tough odds.

    I met most of my past boyfriends through language exchange. Although finding a boyfriend was definitely not the goal, our shared interests in each other’s language and culture already created a strong foundation for us to not only become friends—but something more.

    There’s more than just shared language interests: Try joining a sports team on the weekends, find some events online where you might discover someone with similar hobbies (for example, painting class or bowling events); or, perhaps, try the Internet.

    Hell, one of my best western girlfriends in China just got a Chinese boyfriend through (yes, Chinese men in China use it as well!).

    And believe it or not, I met my current Chinese boyfriend through this very blog.

    The Internet is no longer a creepy way to meet people. It’s an amazing tool that creates opportunities to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have stumbled upon.

    Finally, Enjoy the Journey

    Very Worth It.
    Very Worth It.

    An international relationship is a humbling and learning experience. Dating someone from a different culture is fun and exciting, but it can also be tiring and difficult. You’ll experience the troubles of a regular relationship with an extra dosage of intercultural clashes and misunderstandings that will truly test your patience.

    While some may argue that having an international relationship may be more trouble than it’s worth, I definitely think the pros far outweigh the cons.

    And of course, I’m curious:

    How did you meet your significant other or date from another culture? Any tips to add?

    Revisiting the Vietnam War

    Revisiting the Vietnam War


    During my visit home over the holidays, my dad and I sat at the bar table sipping white peony tea.  He was nibbling on a cinnamon roll, I was snacking on some leftover Goi Cuon (Vietnamese spring rolls) my mom made earlier in the evening.

    My father fought in the Vietnam war.  It’s where he met my mother.

    There are a slew of Vietnam veterans scattered throughout the country, but few managed to bring back a local from the war torn remains of Vietnam.   Even fewer of these couples managed to keep their relationship together through the final, and most difficult hurdle: Culture Shock.  Even if Vietnamese woman were to escape her homeland and be with the GI of her dreams in the supposedly “happily ever after” ending following the Vietnam war, many of them experienced extreme culture shock from their new American home and intercultural marriage, and few could adapt to the foreign world they were living  in.  This is best portrayed in the movie Heaven and Earth, where after ten years of marriage the Vietnamese wife of a GI leaves the safe haven of the USA and, eventually, goes back to Vietnam.

    It has been almost 50 years since the Vietnam war.  My father is getting older, and now he tends to open up more about the war than in the past (he never shared war stories when I was younger).

    Over a pot of white tea, he suddenly turned to me and said: “Did I ever tell you about Big Joe?”

    Big Joe

    IMG_1690 - Copy

    I was just a journalist, so I wasn’t allowed to have the heavy duty weapons.  I only had an AK-47 slung over my right shoulder, a bag containing my notebook and tape recorder cradled on my left shoulder.  I was covering a story near Cu-Chi and it was an absolute mess.  I interviewed a guy once that actually infiltrated those dark, damp tunnels trying to hunt out the viet-cong.  Now that is fear.

    Crawling through a pitch black, narrow tunnel with your enemy all around you–the only thing keeping you from death being the rifle in your hand, shooting blindly in the dark.  Many of those guys never made it out of the tunnels–but if they did, they were never the same.

    I wasn’t armed with heavy artillery like the other soldiers, so I tried to pick my war companions well.

    And no one made me feel safer than Big Joe.

    Big Joe was a 6″2′ black man, built like a rock with a stone hard face to match.  He always had  two pelts of bullets slung over each shoulder and crossing at his chest.  He was like a big, black version of Rambo.  I felt safe in his presence not only because he was physically built to fight a bear bare-handed or had enough artillery on his body to shoot down an entire VC army.  I trusted him because around his neck (along with his array of ammo) were rosaries.  I remember they were red and silver and worn and close to his heart at all times.  He whispered a hail Mary before each battle under his breath.   I clung to him like a scared child clings to their parent during a lightning storm in the dark.  But he didn’t mind.  Big Joe never showed us, but I’m sure he felt like it was his duty to look out for me–for all of us.

    Suddenly, a rain of gunfire.  Firecrackers in the sky.

    “Get down!” the other soldiers scream, and we immediately drop to the dirt floor in a nearby trench.

    “The enemy isn’t supposed to be here!” the other guys panic.  “We might be outnumbered!”

    Everyone was afraid to stand up.  To face the enemy.  To be shot.  There was panic everywhere.

    Big Joe saw me inch near him.  He looked me dead in the eye, “you afraid, Mike?”

    I don’t know why, but I let out a roar of laughter and said “well Joe, there’s a bunch of guys firing at us and we’re ambushed–doesn’t look so good!”

    He let out a big, hearty laugh.  The other men looked at us, fear in their eyes.

    “What are we going to do?”  A voice cries in the distance.  Another round of shots fires above us.

    “Quit being pussies,” Big Joe breaks the heavy air of silence.  “We’re going to shoot ’em, that’s what.”

    Big Joe stands up, loads up his machine gun, and shoots a spray of bullets in every direction.  He probably killed ten VC in those few short moments.

    The other men began to stand up and shoot.  I stood up and loaded my gun.  Big Joe stepped forward and fired in all directions.  The VC dropped like flies in the grass.

    It wasn’t just that time.  Big Joe was always doing that.  He stood up when the rest were afraid.

    Now, that’s what bravery is.  Standing up first.

    “Do you still talk to Big Joe?”I asked my father after he told the story.

    “He didn’t make it.”

    My dad paused.

    “He was a good guy, Big Joe.  A really good guy.  I’ll never forget those rosary beads.”

    The Mass Must Go On


    “You ever had a martini, Mike?” father Jack was mixing the holy grail of alcohol in Vietnam: A dry martini with an olive.

    “Think I’ve had one of those, father” I smiled and took the drink from his hand, relishing in the sweet concoction I so fondly remembered from days long past.  From home.

    “Bet you never had one in Vietnam” he winked at me and finished mixing up his martini (with slightly more vermouth).  We clinked our paper cups together and drank.  Sometimes, that was all you could do here.  It was an escape.

    Father lived in downtown Saigon.  He lived in a  very simple apartment; the paint was peeling from the walls, and the furniture, if you could call it that, was rotten wood years old.  The table legs were wobbly, the tablecloth covered in stains.  We stood near the open window, the light streaming in from the afternoon sun.  A few other GIs were with us gathered in the living room sipping martinis in our humble little Dixie cups.  We laughed and told jokes on the inside, but outside the world was a war torn mess.

    Father invited us to his house every Sunday.  This week, he gave us a special treat: Real alcohol.

    Father Jack had nerves of steel.  He volunteered to go to Vietnam of his own accord and had been there since the beginning.  He had been preaching mass in Saigon for over ten years.  I don’t even want to know what the man had seen in his years, but all I knew was his sermons helped keep us afloat.  Not just us GIs, but the Vietnamese as well.  It was the one place where the our two cultures could merge together.  It’s where we congregated and spoke the same language.

    I remember that church.  There was no roof.  There were no walls.  It was just a husk of a building, the broken pillars being the only thing keeping the place upright.  It was meager for a church; the framework stood hollow and tall over us, but the splintered pews that lined the inside to the altar at the front gave it that indistinguishable look of a church.  We came here every week for mass in Saigon, and each pew was always full.

    We were having mass.  The priest had just blessed the eucharist and turned bread into the body of christ; wine into the blood of our savior.  Then, we heard it: an ear shattering explosion a stone throw away.  A rain shower of bullets.  Screams erupted in all directions and we dropped our heads down into the pews.  People were scattering and shouting outside the church confines.  Chaos ensued.  Another explosion echoed in the distance.

    And through it all, I heard father Jack at the altar chanting the blessed sacrament. Despite the explosions, the gunfire, the screaming, the running, the shouting and the debris–he managed to stand tall.  He held up the eucharist and continued like nothing was amiss.  The bomb that dropped only a mere meter away was, to him, just a baby crying in the distance.  Unwavering, he carried on with mass.

    The orchestra of explosions and gunshots subsided.  The helicopters were gone, the intruders taken care of.  Slowly we began to peek our heads up from beneath the pews and felt safe enough to stand again.  Father Jack just finished the prayer of the blessed sacrament and stood at the head of the pews, waiting patiently for us to come and receive communion.

    “Father,” I finished my last swig of martini and looked him in the eye.  “Don’t you get scared?  Don’t you want to run away?  I mean, how the hell do you do it?”

    He laughed and finished the lat sip of his martini, “God sent me to Vietnam, Mike.  I must carry out His mission.”

    The bravery to stand in the face of fear is the greatest gift from god that any man could hope to have.

    Result of the War


    My parents never returned to Vietnam since the war ended.  My mom hasn’t visited her homeland in over 35 years.

    Me, on the other hand, knew I had to go.  As soon as I began work in Japan, I was already scheming a trip to Vietnam for my upcoming holidays.  I had to see my mother’s country and hometown.  I had to go to Vietnam–I had to go to Saigon.

    I went to the war memorial museum in Vietnam.  I was alone.  The war museum is most likely similar to the one in Nanjing.  It’s extremely biased toward the Vietnamese by portraying the American soldiers as animals that raped and pillaged Vietnam.

    I wanted to think it mere propaganda, but I knew it was true.  There were photos of dead women and children piled on top of one another, American soldiers surrounding them.  There was an entire gallery dedicated to the lethal and everlasting damage of agent orange.  The ruins of what was once the lush and breathtaking tropical scenery of Vietnam reduced to ash.  American soldiers shooting and killing civilians.  Hundreds of half-Vietnamese and GI children abandoned in orphanages.

    I never felt more discord than when I was in that museum.  It was a strange dichotomy.  A feeling of hatred filled with remorse; sympathy and betrayal all mixed into one.

    War is terrible, and the Vietnam war especially atrocious.  Lives were lost.  Innocence was destroyed.  Americans fought for something vague and out of reach.  Vietnam was a country torn in half politically; brothers fighting one another, people dying for a cause that neither side was sure of.

    And there I was.  I was a result of the war.  I stood at the exit of the war museum and looked back to a world of memories I never had, but that were eternally part of me.  I was a strange hybrid, a mix; something that, I’m sure, wasn’t supposed to happen.  The war was terrible, but without it I wouldn’t be here.  The war made me.


    I finished my last spring roll and looked at my dad.

    “You know,” I poured him the last cup of tea.  “I want to hear more of your stories from Vietnam.”