Readers may have noticed that the blog has different sections to it all focused on the idea of “out loud” — my concept of being full, upfront, bold and honest in our choices and in our lives (hence the name of the blog). One of the sections I would like to introduce is “Talking Out Loud” a series of short interviews with friends, strangers, family, etc that focus on how they are living their lives out loud and to the fullest. I have trawled self-help web sites, read countless books and worked with a few coaches to find out how I can better myself. However, the advice I find the most meaningful, the most inspiring and most sincere is that of every day people; their life experiences have given them insight and perspective that I lack. In “Talking Out Loud”, I use the subject’s own words and thoughts to present what I think it means to live out loud.
I am happy that my college friend Anne Hsu Gibson is my first participant for this section. The first time I met Anne in college, she was balancing a public relations internship off-campus, had a full course load and was training for a wushu (martial arts) competition that involves swords. I sorta feel in love with her. In her own words, here is how Anne has looked to the past to inform her present and in turn is doing some really awesome things for a married 35 yr old working Mom of an adorable son:
Elementary School Teacher
Growing up did you have a career in mind and if so, what was it?
You don’t even know how much I struggled with the writing assignment of “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” in first grade. I had complete writer’s block and tried to get ideas from my classmates, but theirs were lame (every girl wanted to be a nurse, which I think is an admirable profession, but an unoriginal answer at the time). I was thankful, that in college, we didn’t have to know what we wanted to do either until junior year and while I chose majors (psych and communication) that I found interesting, they provided no clear career path. After floundering for a couple of years as a PR account executive for technology companies, I remembered how much I enjoyed working with kids at the campus nursery school while doing work for my psych classes there. I quit my job, started working at a corporate daycare in SF (for GAP employees) and applied to grad school. Now I am happily teaching elementary school, about to start my 10th year. I work to live (as opposed to living to work), so I have a great lifestyle (no commute, lots of vacation, flexibility to come home at a decent hour). I do admit that insecurities about my career choice crop up when I get the big, fat, Stanford reunion book and thumb through all the profiles of my classmates who are partners at big firms, chief residents, gazillionaire entrepreneurs, etc. And then I’m able to squelch the insecurities by remembering that I love what I do, I’m good at it and I feel good about my contribution to my community (whereas other jobs I’ve held in the past simply lined everyone else’s pockets but mine).
Through your mid-twenties, you participated in martial art competitions, in particular wushu. Tell me more about wushu and why it was important to you?
Wushu was an elective I took as part of the Saturday Chinese School I attended (by force — parents), starting at around age 11. I didn’t really want to take wushu either. I sucked at it, having never participated in any sports or much physical activity growing up. I was weak, inflexible and was even once put onto the “Wet Noodle” team by my coach. For real. He had created teams with various names including “Powerhouse” and I was on the “Wet Noodle” team. Yeah, he wasn’t so sensitive to kids’ feelings. Despite being a wet noodle, my mom schlepped my sister and me to private lessons during our summer breaks (driving from Orange County to West LA) and we also spent two summers training in China. Fast forward 10 years and I eventually became the captain of the US National Team, where I competed at the World Championships twice. Even though I sacrificed a lot growing up — my friends in the “popular clique” eventually ditched me after I could never join them for outings to the beach due to practice and boys made fun of my thigh muscles — wushu has given me so much. I’ve had opportunities to travel this country and the world, competing at tournaments and making many amazing friends. I’ve developed inner strength to push through physical challenges (you should’ve seen me push my son out when I was delivering him — my doctor actually chuckled!) as well as the skills to learn, enjoy and/or perform other physical pursuits (like modern and vintage dance and now parkour). Through performing and competing in wushu, I’ve learned the virtues of hard work, preparation, stage presence and I put all of that into my daily life (like when I have to give a toast at a wedding or do presentations for work – hehe). Ultimately, I have gained tremendous strength and discipline from wushu and it’s a huge part of who I am today.
Picture: courtesy of Beijngwushuteam.com
Being from an Asian family and now living in Denver, are their particular dishes/foods you just can’t find where you live? If so, what are they?
GAHHHHH!!! Yes! Boulder, where I live, apparently has the most sommeliers per capita of anywhere in the US (the world?). A significant number of James Beard-honored chefs too, so the western food is fabulous. BUT, real ethnic food is not quite there or available. My family is from Taiwan and the food there is amazing. Taiwanese people are also really good at eating and in massive quantities. (People cannot quite believe the amount of food I can consume being 5′ 1″ and under 120 lbs). You can get great Taiwanese food in California (well ANY kind of food), but save for one new over-priced eatery that recently opened in town (and even that is close, but not exactly what I know/love), there isn’t really authentic Taiwanese food (or Thai or Korean or Chinese or a good taqueria, for that matter) here. I love “Vegetable-Meat” Buns (different from the Cantonese red, sweet meat style found at dimsum), garlic-chive dumplings, zong zi (sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, also different from the pale, white Cantonese-style found at dimsum) and ba wan, which is essentially a meatball wrapped with this glutinous rice flour dealie-bob. My dad lives in Arcadia, Calif (aka Little Taiwan) so I do get my fix when I visit him and I also make sure to bring extra luggage to schlep some frozen zongzis home (as well as Trader Joe’s goodies).
Food is an important part of many Asian families. Does your family have a tradition that centers around food and can you share it with me?
While my family was good at eating, neither of my parents were the traditional home-cooking stars that you think of when you think of ethnic cuisine. My mom cooked VERY simple meals — rice, vegetables sautéed in vegetable oil with garlic and some kind of protein, every day. Now she is even more spare in her cooking, using no salt, pepper, spices, soy sauce, etc. One fabulous food memory I have growing up, though, is having hot pot in the winter (even Southern California has a winter!). My dad built a round table, maybe 2 feet high, with a hole in the middle of it for a propane-powered burner and the pot, that was literally set upon a wooden box. We all sat on pillows on floor of the family room with the fixins’ loaded up between each place-setting (there was room for four: mom, dad, sister and me) — thinly sliced pork, beef or lamb. Meatballs, fishballs, fish cake, tofu, vegetables… it was so fun to be able to cook my own food and then dip it in the raw egg-based sauce (which sorta cooked when you put the boiling hot food item in it, so not as unsafe/gross as it sounds). At the end, when the broth was good and enriched with all the stuff we had cooking in it, we had bowls of soup. Chinese fondue, basically.
As mentioned, up through your 20s you were pretty active with martial arts. Now I hear you are taking a class in parkour, or the art of movement. Tell me more about your new hobby and what need it currently fills for you.
I was initially afraid to take parkour classes — I didn’t think my old body could take it or that I would be brave enough to attempt the movements. My dear husband believed in me, however, and gave me lessons for my birthday, so I took the plunge. I soon discovered that while I did not have that abandon and fearlessness that my fifteen-year-old male classmates had, my wushu background prepared me well. The parkour curriculum is actually quite structured and each movement is broken down into “progressions,” so there is quite a bit of build up before you attempt anything crazy. I do not intend to jump off of any buildings EVER, but I do enjoy the physical challenge and of course, it’s a nice ego stroke when we’re doing conditioning like seeing how long you can hold a hand-stand against the wall, that I lasted the longest (everyone else had to walk on hands and feet, like an animal, while waiting for me) and that I can jump farther, do more pull-ups, push-ups and can scramble better (over a 6-foot tall box) than many of the young ‘uns in class. So I guess parkour makes me feel young and like a badass, which provides a healthy bit o’ spice for this 35-year-old mother/elementary school teacher (though my various scary-looking bruises draw suspicious glances and questions). Speaking of elementary school, HAH, one day at class, I noticed this one boy who looked REALLY familiar. He totally avoided me. Finally, I cornered him and asked him if went to the elementary school I taught at. I realized he was a student I’d had in a math class once and the kid was like “yeah, yeah” with eyes downcast. I guess it was like having your mom crash your party or something. Which reminds me — my mom started doing wushu at age 38. After driving us kids to all these classes and just sitting around during practice, she joined us. She eventually could do the splits and would kill at competitions (beating men too!). So I figure if mom could do it, I can do it.
What one talent do you wish you had and why?
Part of why parkour is so fulfilling is that I’ve conquered physical fears that I’ve had since I was young (or have mastered movements I never had the proper training for). While I did have a successful wushu career — the acrobatics part of wushu I never had the opportunity to fully develop. I was always afraid of being upside down or doing any kind of flip. Therefore, I wish I could do gymnastics and while some say it might not be too late, I don’t really feel comfortable trying to master a back handspring, front flip, back tuck, etc., at this point in my life. I say this as my left tricep is burning from a minor pull while doing a broad jump burpee at parkour today.
Define what it means to live your life to the fullest or as I say on the blog “live your life out loud?”
For me, it’s finishing what you start (except for bad books — life’s too short), doing things all the way, not giving up.
I am smiling from reading Anne’s answers which just confirmed why I thought Anne was a perfect candidate for this section. So the Talking Out Loud section, isn’t just about me asking questions. Aside from answering questions, each of the people interviewed ask me 1-2 questions. I don’t get to edit the questions or censor what they ask. So check back for the Talking Out Loud Epilogues were I answer the questions Anne has placed before me.