Covid-19 Columns

Club news and journals during Covid-19

The dish of tomato mixed egg


I have always been a Chinese American kid, but in the beginning, I didn’t know it. As a kid, you’re the center of the universe, the protagonist of your own story. Your normal is the normal. I knew that I was Chinese and that some of my classmates weren’t, but I didn’t yet know what that truly meant.

I lived and went to school in a community filled with Asian Americans, so I never thought of myself as weird or out of the ordinary. Every day I would see kids my age who looked like me and could speak Chinese like me. When I went over to my friends’ places their homes in many ways resembled mine. Their kitchens had soy sauce, vinegar, a place to put the chopsticks and a rice cooker (not to mention a drawer stashed with plastic shopping bags). When we ate, each person would have a cup of rice and we’d sit around a table and share a few common dishes. As kids are wont to do, I naturally assumed that the way I and my friends lived was more or less the way everyone lived.

 Over time, though, this idea was gradually dispelled. I learned about the larger world outside of my own small community from TV shows like Jessie or Good Luck Charlie, movies, and above all, countless books of all kinds. I knew from personal experience what my own life and the lives of some of my friends looked like, but it was through these televised and written stories that I got a glimpse of what the “normal” way to walk and talk was for everybody else. What the “main characters” were supposed to look like for real stories.

What those main characters did not look like was Asian. Asian people were conspicuously missing from the main casts of popular media, along with all the telltale trappings of their culture. When they did show up, they were often side characters, either erased of any indication that they were Asian at all, or with their Asian traits exaggerated for the purpose of comedy. The elementary-school me learned that there was a certain “normal” that the protagonists of stories fit into, and that the Asian experience didn’t meet that standard.

As is the experience for many multicultural children, the older I got, the more my grip on being Chinese slipped away. No one, least of all myself, sought to erase Chinese culture on purpose, but the reality was that the moment I stepped outside my home, I would be immediately immersed in a culture that very much was not Chinese. I spoke and wrote English all the time: at school, with friends, at home as well. Chinese class was a weekly affair, laden with homework and exercises. I became what is jokingly referred to as a banana: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. And I believed that was exactly what I was, just another stereotypical Chinese American child who had forgotten their own language, who liked hamburgers or Panda Express more than “real” Chinese food, who was, ultimately, more American than Chinese.

My mother entertained me when I was little by telling me 成语 stories and summaries of Chinese history, ranging from the era of 三国演义to stories of her own childhood. I loved these stories. They taught me to be proud of my own cultural heritage. But outside of my home, I didn’t hear these kinds of stories anywhere else, and the more time passed, the more I began to feel like this rich cultural heritage had little to do with me. I was a banana. My Chinese identity was a footnote, a secondary part of who I was, one that was all but vanished from my life. After all, it seemed that being Chinese didn’t really matter to anyone in America other than Chinese parents.

In high school things changed again. We began to have a greater awareness of themselves and their place in the world, or at least a burning need to gain that awareness. In various places—angst-ridden poems, clubs, even sport events—high schoolers found ways to express the fruits of their quest of self-discovery. One of my friends, also Asian American, was practicing her script for the Interpretive Reading event, a subcategory of Speech and Debate. We all sat down in the classroom after school to listen to her and give her feedback.

Interpretive Reading scripts are made up of sections of text cobbled and pieced together from different works of literature. All of that patchwork and selection is done by yourself, and as a result, each script is often very personal. My friend had written hers on what it meant to be a Chinese American girl.

One of the pieces she chose from was “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan. In it, Amy Tan spoke of a white boy she’d had a crush on. When he and his family came over to visit, she wanted badly to have a traditional white American dinner, and was embarrassed when her family reached across the table with their chopsticks to snatch at different plates, mortified when her mother brought out a “whole steamed fish.” Robert, the object of her crush, grimaced at the sight of it.

This part of her speech wasn’t the most emotional or intense, but the most confusing. “What’s going on?” I wondered out loud. Why was it weird to share a bunch of different plates with the whole family? To eat from them with your chopsticks? That was the way my family ate dinner every night. And what’s with the grimace? What, had Robert never seen an entire fish before?

The speech and debate coach explained that while in our area, rife with Asian and indigenous influences, fish in a meal is a fairly normal thing, for many American families it simply isn’t. In fact, many of them specifically eat fermented fish during Lent, which is especially stinky. As a result, Robert the minister’s son likely saw fish as a stinky weird thing and not as an appetizing meal.

This stunned me. Before, I’d thought of being Chinese in terms of the language and more obvious parts of the culture, such as traditional dances or literature. Right then, though, I realized that being Chinese was woven deeply into all the ordinary and mundane aspects of my life as well, all the way down to the food I ate and the way I ate food.

My friend’s speech was well-written, and every part of it hit home, from Amy Tan’s comfortingly familiar description of an ordinary dinner in a Chinese family to a more scathing “letter” by Rachel Rostad asking why J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, had named the only East Asian character in her book series “Cho Chang.” All the little parts of me that I’d tucked away or dismissed were brought to light. Most earthshaking of all was the sheer volume of Chinese American literature my friend had drawn from to make her speech. It was one of the first times I realized that Chinese American authors could write about being Chinese American, that Chinese American experiences could be told in published books and poems, not just as bedtime stories. That Chinese American people could be the center of their own story. 

Not too long afterwards, I stumbled across a TED talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was called “The Danger of a Single Story.” In it, she recounts her experience as a girl who loved reading. Though she lived in Nigeria, most of the books she read were written by British authors, and in them were stories about blonde-haired blue-eyed British children doing British things, playing in the rain and eating apples.

So when Adichie turned around and began writing her own stories, that’s what she wrote about. Blonde-haired blue-eyed British children doing British things. Never mind the fact that she was black-haired and black-eyed, that it rarely rained where she lived and that they didn’t really eat apples. Because she’d only ever read stories about British children, she didn’t know that stories could be about any other kind of person. I realized that I had stumbled into the exact same problem.

Excepting a few books here and there, I had never seen a major Chinese character—much less a Chinese main character—in any of the hundreds of books I consumed. I had never seen myself in a story. So when the time came for me to begin trying to write a story myself, I didn’t know how to put myself in that story. In all of my early, rambling, haphazard attempts to write a fully fledged novel, my protagonists were always very literally blonde-haired American girls. Their parents would be white Americans, and they would act and talk the way I imagined white Americans acted and talked. Even in a diary-formatted story I almost completely modeled after my own day-to-day life, the main character was still blonde-haired and white. When I made characters for my comics, the default appearance would be as a brown or blonde-haired white girl.

When I was very little, I did write stories with a Chinese main character (badly disguised as someone other than myself) and a drew people who looked like me, but funnily enough, the older I got, the more I forgot how to write stories about Chinese people. I assumed that these stories—my story—simply didn’t get to be told.

With the wise words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and my friend from speech and debate, as well as countless other small incidents, I slowly began to realize two things: one, that even though I had been Americanized in many ways, on a deeper level I was still very much Chinese; and two, that the part of me that was Chinese needed and deserved a voice.

Even after those realizations, I was still stuck in a troublingly fuzzy spot. After all, I was Chinese American, not Chinese. Aspects of Chinese culture were woven into my identity, but I still acted and talked very much like any other American. I and many other of my peers were part of a vague and hazy in-between. I began searching for a common thing, anything, that all of my Chinese American friends shared, that I could conclusively pinpoint as part of who we were, something that made us distinctly Chinese American.

In the end, that thing, uniting every Chinese American kid I knew, turned out to be 西红柿炒鸡蛋.

Every single kid I asked had heard of it (save for that one guy whose family called it 番茄炒鸡蛋and didn’t know what a 西红柿was) and almost all of them were extremely fond of it. It’s a comfort food, generally satisfying and very easy to make. Interestingly, the tomato-and-scrambled-eggs combination is not something that many non-Chinese Americans have heard of, nor even something they recognize as Chinese. I will always remember the warm feeling of finding a common experience that united me with my fellow Chinese American friends, as well as the even warmer feeling of thinking about a nice hot bowl of 西红柿炒鸡蛋. I’ll stop because now I’m just making myself hungry.

In 2018 I went and watched Crazy Rich Asians with my family in a movie theater. It’s not a perfect or a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s a good movie, and every bit of it—the setting, the plot, the characters—were all so thoroughly and genuinely Chinese. I watched this movie up on the big screen, knowing that its success would open up the U.S. mainstream to even more blockbusters that put the spotlight on Asian people doing Asian things, just completely belonging and being at ease, and every second of those two hours made me happy. Asian people are still a minority in the U.S., but every day there are more and more Asian creators bringing our culture and presence into books and movies and art, expanding the horizon of representation further and further. I’ve wanted to write and illustrate stories since I was two years old, and for the first time, I know that that is the kind of story I want to tell.


---- Xiaorong Guo

A few words about social contact...

For many different reasons, the COVID-19 crisis has been stressful for most people. Being socially isolated and functioning in life under duress takes its toll in various ways.

For the most part, human beings are social creatures, and you only have to Google “isolation mental health effects” to see why keeping up social contact with other people is important to mental wellbeing. Specifically, meaningful social contact, not just a few words with a stranger (or a deranged customer). If possible, keeping up contact with friends online is great not just for your mental health, but as a way to check in on them, too.


Already present anxiety and stress can be worsened by following the news too closely. It’s important to stay up to date, but especially during a crisis, news outlets deliberately focus on negative headline [A picture containing drawing Description automatically generated] draw in more readers. Too much bad news for too long a time strains your mental and emotional capacity. Keep your limit down to one upsetting article a day. Also important is to keep from spreading deliberately misleading or over-sensationalized information on to other people. If you hear an incredible fact, it might not be 100% accurate. Fact-check major news before you share it with others. And, while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to type “good news” into the Google search bar and inject yourself with some wholesome vibes.

Being in a really, really subpar situation brings on a whole host of negative effects. On a basic level, remember to take care of yourself physically as well. Our mental states can impact our physical behavior, and the connection goes both ways. Eating full and regular meals, maintaining a decent sleep schedule (hopefully 7+ hours a night), keeping up personal hygiene and healthy habits in general—these all contribute to make you feel a little bit better about yourself and the day, and they’re things you can to some extent control. Even if you’re not up to doing everything perfectly, commit yourself to doing a little at a time. 50% is still way above 0%, and 1% is still 1%.

Good luck to everyone!


---- Xiaorong Guo


About online learning...

When the lockdown started, school, like many other things, moved online. The admin and teachers at my school handled it very well: by the second or third week they’d emailed us all a regular schedule for classes, and teachers had all more or less figured out how Microsoft Team worked. The school (and my psych teacher, shoutout to her) sent out weekly surveys checking in on us and asking for feedback. How were the online classes? How did they compare to learning in physical classrooms? What went well? What went badly?

Unsurprisingly, both students and teachers complained about the lack of face-to-face interaction. We can still ask questions and talk, but you just don’t get that same level of personal connection. The idea was that no matter how well online classrooms worked, they still couldn’t take the place of physical classrooms.  

That may be true, but the fact that they’re fundamentally different is what makes them important.

I struggle a little with social anxiety. Like everyone else, I lost all of that up-close-and-personal chat time, but this made it easier for me to process and learn.

In most classes, it would be perfectly normal for someone to spend the entire time muted and camera off. This meant that I could focus solely on the class rather than the other people participating in it. It was like listening to a TED talk, something I’ve always found strangely soothing. Talking to friends is fun, but social interaction in and of itself is tiring. Being able to stay totally unseen and unheard was more relaxing than it was isolating. Setting social anxiety aside, I’m sure that most students wouldn’t mind being able to literally hide from the suspicious gaze of a teacher behind a screen.

Online classrooms also made it easier for me to share ideas and engage. Because too many unmuted mics meant a very loud and messy meeting, and some mics just flat out didn’t work, a lot of discussion took place in the chat. When you type out your answer, you have to collect your thoughts and figure out how to present them in a coherent way. Responding verbally needs you to be a little quicker on your feet. It’s one of the reasons why some of us sound smoother when texting than when talking out loud. In a real classroom, more anxious students are easily drowned out by their classmates, and when you do get a chance to speak what comes out often doesn’t sound as good as it did in your head. A lot of this sort of stress just goes away in an online class. Even if you are called on and expected to answer verbally, the barrier that separates you from your classmates and teacher is like a protective shield. (Not to mention the fact that you can always stay quiet the whole time and let everyone think your mic is broken.)

Social anxiety is just one among a whole host of reasons why someone might find it easier to engage and learn when class takes place online. The same things that diminish the classroom experience for some make it less stressful for others.

Online classrooms like the kind we saw during the lockdown were a temporary and imperfect substitute for physical classrooms. However, as the lockdown ends and we return to school buildings, online classrooms don’t have to go away as quickly as they came. They can continue to serve as a supplement to physical classes, even a serious alternative. 

One of the major things the COVID-19 crisis has done is highlight problems that had long been ignored. The need for alternatives to “conventional” education (as well as how doable those alternatives truly are) is one of them. Relatively recently, public education has started to flirt with the concept that everyone has a different learning style. This hasn’t shown up much outside of the occasional presentation or a day of quizzes and surveys, entertaining but without any lasting results. However, as the lockdown has shown (and advocates in the past have repeatedly said), there are many students who would benefit from a serious shift in educational environment and methodology, one that goes beyond just including more colorful graphics in a PowerPoint.

I’m far from an expert, so I can’t list all the different kinds of learners or all the different kinds of classroom strategies teachers can use. But I do believe that by integrating them further into day-to-day education, we can create a more accessible and productive learning space for many.


                                                                                                                   ---- Xiaorong Guo


To stay productive

With the sudden disappearance of a good chunk of the school year, many issues related to education have suddenly arisen, not least of which is the problem of productivity. Many people I know have found that with what idle time there is, it can be hard to think of things to do or keep pace with assignments or exams on your own. The ideal thing to do would be to try and figure out some kind of schedule or routine that works best for you as an individual. However, if you’re in want of a helpful tip, then you’re in luck! Below are six of them!

1.    Make a list of things you need to do

This one is fairly straightforward. If you want to be able to keep up with all the things you hope to get done, making a list to keep track is important. The list should be updated if something new pops up. For maximum effect, find some way of highlighting or separating out which items are high-priority and urgent, and which ones are more secondary. Making a list also helps you compartmentalize what you need to get done and can help reduce stress. A final bonus is that once you’re done making the list, you will feel like a mature and organized person who has their life under control, a person who has been productive today. A nice and wholesome ego boost.

Remember that if you have the time for it, including some space for leisure is a good idea. Make a list of personal goals or activities you’ve been meaning to do for a while, too, such as finally being able to do the splits, getting buff, singing karaoke, or even making cat portraits out of toilet paper.

2.    Make yourself do a little of everything

If you feel the pull of existential dread and can’t bear to do a full assignment or sweep the entire floor, make yourself do just a little bit. Take half a page of notes, or just flip the book open to the right chapter. Locate the broom and dustpan and pinpoint which spot you want to clean. If your energy returns later on, you’ll have already given yourself a bit of a kickstart and will be in a better position to really get going. Maybe you’ll even get the entire task done just like that, in tiny increments. And in any case, 10% is always better than 0%. Just like with tip number 1, tip number 2 can also give you a boost of the feeling of productivity.

3.    Keep in touch with friends if you can

Good friends are extremely helpful in all ways. They can give you a welcome distraction from your own head and the monotony of life in general. Plus, your peers can commiserate with you on upcoming essays or dreaded chores. At least misery will have company, and it lets you know that you’re not alone in whatever you’re going through. That can give you the kick you need to keep going when you’d otherwise feel like giving up.

Also, since humans are social animals, prolonged social isolation is actually pretty bad for you.

4.    A cat

At first glance, you might think a cat would reduce your productivity by distracting you with their feline charm, but overall they are beneficial. Playing with a cat helps you de-stress, gives you some kind of social contact, and is very good for your mental health. This can rejuvenate you out of a mental fog and bring a spring into your step.

I understand that in current times it is unlikely that anyone who does not already have a cat can get one. I sympathize and offer you my condolences. That’s what #catsofinstagram is for.

5.    Sleep!

Sleep is very, very important! Just a week or so of less than eight hours of sleep can lead to tangible worsening of health in areas such as blood pressure, energy, and memory. If you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not going to be at your most productive, quarantined or not. Sleep deprivation also hurts your immune system, which is exactly the thing to avoid.

Technically, setting up a regular and rigorous sleep schedule is the healthiest option, but sleeping at 1am and waking up at 11:30am is still better than sleeping at 3am and waking up at 6am. Get over 8 hours of sleep each night and you will be well rested and more relaxed. Take naps during the day if you get tired. Once true sleep deprivation kicks in, you won’t get much done at all, unless you’re counting incoherent babbling.

6.    Double check the news!

This is more just a general tip than one focused on productivity but remember to double check the news you receive from social media or friends and family, and use trustworthy sources such as Reuters rather than, say, Breitbart News or the Witherspoon Institute. Remember that no source is ever truly exempt from bias, which is why having multiple sources to reference is so important. Consuming heavily biased media or relying on hearsay for all your knowledge of current events can easily inspire panic and prejudice, neither of which are good for productivity.

And, of course, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, only buy what you need, and practice social distancing!


---- Xiaorong Guo

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