love, mom

mom took this one of me when we were in vietnam two years ago.
she has a knack for capturing me as i am;
slightly uncomfortable in front of cameras, but always carrying snacks.

veanne cao

aimee

i wrote about my cousins a while back
and i think the post best describes my family’s dynamic,
at least dad’s side.

aimee comes to new york every few months for work,
which means i usually get a day of antics with my little cousin.

two candids in chinatown.


a mah and a yeh, who taught us kindness.

when grandpa passed away two decades ago,
the only thing i kept from his bedroom was this photograph of him and grandma.

cao

her meticulously coiffed fringe, braids, ribbons, rouge.
i wish i knew the story behind this portrait.
was it for a special occasion? did she love that dress most?
were they happy?

vietnam

sàigòn.
5am street corners on little red plastic stools with dad and his childhood friend.
i miss these mornings, dearly.


 

aunt chau and uncle phuong’s,
where i spent summer 2007 scriptwriting in afternoon thunderstorms.



 

i was introduced to relatives i’ve never met, including uncle thanh, on the left.


who regaled me with war tales of when grandpa moved the entire family of a hundred into one home
to keep everyone safe and united.
(mom said this number was grossly exaggerated, but i’d like to believe him anyway.)
 

iPhone timelapse on tristyan’s motorbike.
nose, cheek pressed against his back, swerving through districts, perfectly intoxicated.


 

vũng tàu.



 

i had originally planned to add a lot more pictures with weeks of stories,
but ever since i met tristyan, my enthusiasm for blogging has waned
because i’ve been sharing my narratives with him.

but i will say, i see my parents about once a year
and every time i see them, they get a little bit more tranquil, a little bit more eccentric.

with this trip, i was reminded of how hilariously funny they are,
how sweet and affectionate they are to me, to each other.
and there was a sadness, a heartache, a longing to move back to california
when they saw me off at the airport.
 

currently listening to:
the recording is rubbish and the camera guy has the sniffles,
but i was so obsessed with his performance that i had this on repeat my entire trip back to saigon.

mùa thu cho em – tiến nguyễn

translation here.

玫瑰 玫瑰, 我愛你

growing up in los angeles,
my grandmother used to have a rose garden.
i specifically remember these two rose bushes on the side of the house that looked particularly like trees without thorns.

over the summer, i scoured the garden centre looking for them
only to discover they weren’t rose bushes.

the buds remained intact throughout the months until yesterday,
but just one bloomed.

camellia flower
camellia flower

not sure what it is about the holidays that turn me into a complete sap,
but i miss grandma. it’s through her and grandpa that i learned how love should be
and the family i strive to build one day.
 

currently listening to:
joanna wang did a sweet cover of a song that grandma used to sing.


 

afternoon with apa

i enjoy assembling things with lots of parts (like drum kits, lighting kits and ikea dressers).
in this case, a steadicam.

my relationship with dad is most harmonious when
we’re listening to music or working together on projects big or small.


he also rigged/raised my quick release plate so the lever wouldn’t be such a nuisance. :)

my father, the audiophile

when people wonder where my fondness for collecting all things obsolete comes from…

dad used to be an audio/video engineer back in the days of analog.
during the digital shift, he basically decided, “i’m too old to learn all this shit,”
retired, and started collecting gear.

this isn’t even 1/10 of what’s scattered around the house.




we argue, a lot. he makes me so angry sometimes that i just want to shake him.
the rare times we do get along are when we’re together in his listening room
playing billie holiday records and agreeing on things like,
“they don’t make music like how they used to.”

and then i introduced him to wilco the other day and he said, “oh, this is good.”


 

paso robles, california

yes, i know i am blessed to have been born into the cao family.
and i have the most loving,

sweetest


 

weirdest


 

did i mention weirdest?

cousins in the world.
 

the eight of us met up over a weekend in this huge house
equipped with a vineyard and swimming pool for a cousins retreat.

lots of ridiculously silly photos which i’ll leave to share between the cousins.
but our last day there, they humored me and let me take portraits.
i picked the ones that best exuded our personalities.

tc, who along with suzanne, used to torment me as a kid.


 

jaimee. aimee will tell you she’s my favorite, but shhh, jaimee is.


 

suzanne bakes me cookies
and plays “someday my prince will come” on her baby grand when i come to visit.


 

calvin went from an awkward, quiet little kid to this handsome, confident man.


 

aimee. she grabs my boobs and cackles like an old lady whenever she sees me.


 

definitely not one of my more flattering photos,
but i remember being really happy when suzanne took this.


 

my fathead brother vinh. black and white doesn’t do his personality justice.


 

chanh is a bit camera shy, so in her place
i’ll leave this picture of a yummy cheeseburger jaimee and i shared during lunch.


 

currently listening to:
after i flew into sfo, suzanne and i did a six-hour drive,
blasting and belting take me home, country road as we rolled up to the house.
“dark and dusty, painted on the sky…”


 

family, love

cousins get together at suzanne’s in the outer sunset.
she showed us a photo book she made with shutterfly
of all our family trips and gatherings from 2011.


 

aimee was very upset she was unable to make it,
so she texted all of us this photo strip to show us how broken up she was
(she has a talent for making ridiculously, awesomely ugly faces).

it’s uncanny how much she looks like me in the third picture.

christmas day with their presents

there are only two people in the world with whom i trust my heart.

my big brother.
with his remote control flying shark, a gift from cousin calvin.


 

you cannot find a better man.

 
. . . . . .
 

mom. she’s being silly in this picture.
i got her the hooded coat for christmas.

her heartbreak hurts me more than any man i’ve ever loved.
i daydream about taking her to an island far away,
where we waddle our feet in the ocean
(since neither of us know how to swim),
climb trees and be insouciant, young girls again.

and also have internet so she can watch her korean dramas before going to bed.

i am in love with a boy, manufactured to destroy.

wrapping presents with mister muffinhead.


 

two hours, three dozen christmas jingles later.


 

each year, our tree is different.
last year’s was pretty awesome.
this year’s…not sure why mom thought brown would be a good color.


 

i find out december 27th if this will have been our last christmas as a family.

time passing

over the weekend, about thirty of us got together in rosemead for a cao family reunion.

the adults are now losing hair, missing teeth, but their joyfulness remains.
the kids are now married, with kids of their own,

the babies are now kids.


 

and hudson, my uncle’s family dog of seventeen years, passed away the day of the bbq.

r.i.p. sweetheart.
 

nkotbsb concert

previous: wistful nostalgia

i’ve been to about twenty shows in the past year,
but i haven’t been this excited in like, forever.

chanh smiled and sang along,
suzanne would clap and say, “yay! whoo!” every few songs,
but tc and i were standing up for most of the show,
screaming and dancing like maniacal teenage groupies.
i think i even cried a little when they sang, “i’ll be loving you (forever).”

but it was a bit awkward seeing 40 year old women dressed up in homemade tee-shirts,
with their hands on their bellies,
swinging their legs left and right, doing the new kids dance.

still, such a wonderful night revisiting childhood.
 

currently listening to:
total guilty pleasure.
i was like, hey girl can i get your number.

summertime

wistful nostalgia

cousins chanh, tc, suzanne and i grew up with the new kids on the block.
we spent our summers learning dance routines to “the right stuff”,
carefully crafting fan letters proclaiming our undying love and devotion,
and playing the hangin’ tough vhs ad nauseam until the magnetic tape would stretch
and the images would become static messes.

we were little girls madly in love for the first time,
the kind of love that never goes away.

i’m supposed to be in los angeles this summer,
so i called each cousin tonight and asked them (in a very serious tone)
“can you leave friday, july 1st open for me?”
“why?”

when i explained i could snag us tickets to the knotb concert for that night,
their response was hysterical,
screeching excitement,
like tweeny boppers all over again.

july 1st,
one night of childhood bliss with three beautiful cousins,
it’s on like donkey kong!

hangin' tough

christmas in a little town called elk grove.

making ornaments with old family photos.


 

voila!


 

mom brought home live lobsters. my best friend is fearless.


 

my dinner plate.


 

waiting for midnight to open presents.
getting lots of slobbering kisses from henri while joey takes a nap.


 

daddy handing out presents.


 

vinh loves me.


 

i got him finger toe socks.


 

how cute is momma with her new bathrobe? =)


 

aimee got vinh a rape whistle
(because you know, boys his size need some sort of protection against creepy dudes).
curious henri popped his head right up.


 

a few dozen more pictures, but i’m sleepy.
happy holidays everyone! <3

san francisco, ca

the guestroom at suzanne’s is like a museum for all things darling.


 

charlie seems to think so too.

rosemead, ca

4th of july weekend with the family.

doggie pile on aimee.


 

isabella looks just like grandma, auntie teo, aimee and me when we were little girls.


 

cousin suzanne was unable to make the trip,
but we all wanted to make sure she knew she was sorely missed.


 

would you like some carne asada suzanne che che?


 

we made our own fireworks in the street.


 

currently listening to:
when the seven of us cousins piled in the hotel room,
aimee, jaimee and i stayed up late, daydreaming about our weddings.
i told them mine would be small, outdoors, in the countryside,
by the lake, surrounded by flickering fireworks and fireflies.

and we’d all dance around in the moonlight.

everybody here is out of sight

love love love old photos

during my one day off in los angeles,
i spent the afternoon with afu (my uncle, apa’s older brother) listening to francoise hardy
and going through old family albums.

apa looks like grandma and i look like apa, but i don’t think i look like grandma, do i?


 

aimee told me this was taken when grandpa worked as a translator for the french.


 

i wonder if they’re at the zoo..


 

afu, the original hipster.


 

i love how apa rocks the gold chains even at the beach. my dad was the awesomest.


 

i’m the little butterball on grandma’s lap.


 

afu asked me if i could find my dad in this picture.


 

surprisingly, i did.

1023

i sent the same picture to mom and fathead vinh
and they were both able to pick him out as well. kinda neat. :)

if you listen to your heart the whole night through

acting is one of those things i studied in high school and a little bit in college,
but after a few films, i shortly abandoned the craft to pursue the production side.

masami saw me in kieu from a few years ago
and auditioned me for the lead role in her upcoming film
while i was in san francisco over the holidays.

i was a little hesitant because, you know, acting is a scary thing.
to feel, to hurt, to spill your soul, to be scrutinized. it’s a scary thing.
but if you’re an actor,
you also know about those incredibly raw moments with the camera
that remind you what it’s like to be vulnerable, what it’s like to be human.

anyway, yours truly landed the role, accepted the challenge,
and is now in los angeles for pre-production.

also decided to stay with the family while i’m here.

isabella is the most fun.


 

currently listening to:
your sunny someday will come one day soon to you.

hang on little tomato

apa and mommy

a moment caught on video.

there’s no one i love more than these two.

my mom cracks me up.

she said, “why don’t you just move back home,
get knocked up, live on welfare
and go back to school to finish your masters?”

monterey park & sacramento, california

i grew up in a very warm, loving family,
always hugging and kissing and grabbing each others boobs.
oh, i forgot to mention weird. i grew up in a very weird family.

table 8 at the wedding reception, once known as the kids table.


 

i could see my dad’s heart melt whenever he saw my uncle (his brother) with his granddaughter isabella.


 

i know he wants grandkids,
and as much as i like the idea of getting married and spitting out ankle biters,
i just haven’t found the right guy yet, and i’m not going to settle just to settle down.

i want it to be the kind of love a yeh and a mah had.


 

grandma passed away when i was six,
but grandpa lived for another fifteen years.
he never loved another woman, and was dedicated to his family.

when i was little,
dad used to leave on long business trips,
and grandpa, frail and lanky, would take the greyhound bus all the way from los angeles to san jose
to help mom take care of me and vinh.

• • • • •

now back in sacramento for the remainder of the week.
mom and i have been scrapbooking pictures for the newlyweds.

rosemead, california

isabella loved henri very, very much.

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they played

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and played.

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but when the weekend ended and we had to leave, i told izzy to say goodbye to henri,
and she screamed, “no!”

and cried

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and cried.

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