My Father, the Classroom Beast

Hey guys! Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and are ready to get back into the daily grind.

A little update on my life before we get into the meat of today’s post: I just finished a Russian exam this morning and, as I finished early, have a bit of time to kill before my 11:30am music practice session (I am getting back into piano and am also picking up singing). So, I decided to crank out this blog post, ’cause what better way to kill time than to write?

The next couple weeks will be devoted to prepping for finals and finishing the last of my classes’ curricula. My apologies in advance, if I don’t do much writing for the next fortnight… painful as it may be, I gotta prioritize my studies above all else. Although, I’m of the mind that, as important as classroom learning may be, out-of-classroom learning, like reading, watching classic films, traveling and gaining work experience through internships, may be just as, if not more valuable than what you learn in the textbook. A big theme of mine this past quarter has been doing outside reading beyond the classroom. Not only is losing yourself in a brilliant novel a wonderful way to de-stress and temporarily remove yourself from the pressures of academics– it’s also yet another means of enriching your mind and gaining a well-rounded education. I recently finished the memoir “An Unquiet Mind”, written by esteemed UCLA and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor of psychiatry, Kay Jemison. Jemison herself was also a survivor of manic depressive illness, and in this way, I can relate tremendously to the harrowing experiences she recounts in this life-changing memoir. Stay tuned for a future post on the myriad of ways in which this book has altered my view on my mental illness and helped me greater understand manic-depressive illness.


Alrighty guys. On to the heart of today’s topic– MY FATHER! So, my brother Austin and I went home for Thanksgiving holiday and spent some much-needed time with the family. We were eating out one night at a Chinese restaurant, when the topic of my father’s college days arose. Mother, always the braggart, boasted of how my dad graduated top of his class in pharmacy school, and number two in medical school. Dad, ever the humble one, said nothing, but only smiled knowingly. My mother continued, “You know, your dad scored the highest grade for this one midterm, and all his classmates told him to ‘Stop doing that’, as his outrageously high score was raising the class curve!” My dad, brought back to the memories of his disciplined youth, said, “I remember I got a 119/125 on that midterm– it was a pretty difficult exam– and the next highest score was a 109!” My mother, probably trying to inspire Austin and me to be more like our father, continued: “Your dad would get 100% on all the exams, until one time, he didn’t. His professor told him, ‘Thank goodness, Tom. You’ve finally proven that you are human!'”

All the while, Austin and I looked at each other, thinking, Man… our dad was a freaking BEAST in the classroom! While Austin and I have always been great students, I don’t recollect us ever being in the top 1% of the class (at least not me), let alone THE number one student. I jokingly remarked to my dad, “Why are you so smart?” My dad replied, “I’m not smart. I just work very hard. But I also sacrificed a lot to achieve what I did.”

Mad respect for my father.

But I also wonder… was it all worth it in the end, for my dad? At the end of the day, what difference does it make if you graduate first or last in your med school class? Everyone becomes a doctor! My dad gave up a lot to earn the A+’s he did in the classroom… I’m sure he didn’t have much of a social life in his 20s… and he’ll never get those days back. I asked my father what drove and inspired him in his youth, and he replied, “I always wanted to do better than my parents did.” Which made sense for him, as he was a first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong.

I later said to Austin, “I think I work very hard in my studies, just like dad did… Why don’t you think I can be top of my class?” Austin replied, “I don’t know… privileged upbringing, maybe?” I brushed this off as one of Austin’s usual witticisms, and laughed. But there seemed to be some truth in what he said… Perhaps, having grown up in a place of security and privilege, my brothers and I may lack some of that hunger– both physical and mental– that drove my dad when he was our age. Never has poverty been an issue for my brothers and me… not by a long shot. Truth is, we are very, very lucky. We never had to go through the suffering that our forefathers endured. And maybe, just maybe, that took off a bit of our competitive edge in the classroom. To many young people in first-world nations, school is just something they “have to do”. To first-generation immigrants like my father, school was the ultimate key to a better life… a life without hunger or poverty or physical suffering. It’s difficult for me to put myself in my father’s shoes, as my upbringing could not have been more different than his. But if there’s one thing I’ve garnered from my dad’s inspiring story, it is this: I must appreciate the privilege and opportunity of higher education. It is true that education leads one to a better life. It is the surest way one can climb up the social ladder. I mustn’t resent school and studies. Instead of trudging myself to lecture each day, I should be skipping with joy and gratitude! It is truly a privilege for me to be at such a great university like UCLA. If I don’t see this, I couldn’t be more ignorant. And to think that, not very long ago, I was willing to give it all up for a dream to become a professional dancer… How silly was I? No, not silly… just blinded by what was, at the time, a guise of a burning passion. With time, though, I realized that my aspiration to make a mark in the dance world was simply an extension of my unfulfilled Olympic dream as a gymnast. I love dance… but I can imagine myself doing so much more in life. I am transitioning to a chapter of my life devoted to the enrichment and expansion of my MIND. Dance is only one of the many ways in which I do so.

And so, having been freshly inspired  by my father’s story, I am ready to tackle the rest of the quarter with resolve and determination. The goal is not to be top of my class, as my dad once was… but, rather, to appreciate the opportunity I have to be at UCLA, surrounded by equally driven and intellectually hungry peers, learning and growing under the tutelage of my brilliant professors and mentors.


Hi everyone! As the minutes of Thanksgiving Day wind down, I wanted to quickly share with y’all some of my deepest gratitudes that fill my heart not only on this day, but every day.

First and foremost, I am grateful to be alive today, and I mean that quite literally. As you may know, I suffer from manic depressive illness, more commonly known as Bipolar II disorder. The illness often manifests itself in late teens and early 20s. It is characterized by extreme mood swing– hypomanic episodes, inevitably followed by depressive lows. One way I like to think about the illness is this: “In your darkest days, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It is the light of an oncoming train.” Anyway, I went through a particularly bad bout of depression over the summer, which left me suicidal and ready to put an end to my inner turmoil and suffering. Thankfully, with the love of family and friends and support of my watchful therapist and psychiatrist, I was able to climb out of that deep, deep hole, and emerge scarred, but alive. I am forever indebted to these people who have saved me in my darkest moment.

What a perfect segue into my next gratitude– family! I have been blessed with the greatest, most loving and supportive family in the whole wide world. Words cannot encapsulate the amount of gratitude I owe to them… my love, my life. My parents support me and my brothers UNCONDITIONALLY in ALL we do… they have, and will always remain, my greatest rock amidst my tumultuous, tidal temperament and emotions.

And of course, I am so grateful for all of my friends, who fill my life with so much color and dimension. There was a time when I found it very difficult to open my heart to others, leaving me lonely and withdrawn. So to all my friends today– I love you, and am so lucky to have you in my life.

I am grateful to have such creative mediums of expression as dance, music and writing, to enrich my soul. Especially writing… In my darkest of days, writing has never failed to alleviate the pain, even if only slightly. Writing is the first responder to my artistic temperaments, manic moods and bouts of depression. Being able to express through words, with the blood and tears of my soul serving as ink for a never-ending scroll of heavenly paper, has been one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

On that note, three minutes to midnight, I shall end this post. I wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings!

P.S.– I MADE A YOUTUBE CHANNEL! Do check out my first video, fittingly themed for this special holiday. I basically discuss everything I’ve mentioned in this blog post, except in video form! More on why I decided to start a YT channel / future video ideas, at a later date.







What Is She To Do, Now?

Hi guys! Long time no talk– how have you all been?

It’s currently 7:05am as I sit inside Corner Bakery, awaiting my omelet breakfast whilst typing away. Ah, my breakfast just arrived! But before I dig in, I’d like to finish my train of thought.

Life has been… slow, lethargic and slightly melancholic, as of late. For the past couple weeks, I haven’t been feeling quite myself– hence, the hiatus in writing. The spiral has been moving at a constant, gradual pace, interrupted only by brief euphoric moments–coaching the UCLA gymnastics team, seeing UCLA HOOLIGAN theater’s production of “Cabaret” (the musical I helped choreograph) come to fruition, sharing fun conversations with friends. These breaths of fresh air never last long, though, and too soon, I find myself suffocating once in the mugginess of my melancholic, mercurial moods. The effect has been consequential. Focusing on studies is now such an ordeal. Each day is a battle against low motivation and reluctance to hit the books. Never before in my life has this happened… in the past, no matter how hurt or bitter or depressed I may have felt, I always somehow delivered academically. It was as if my grades were immune to the volatility and unpredictability of my tidal emotions. Academics have been the most the consistent part of my life, beyond the love of my family.

Now, I can’t seem to sit still long enough to get in the groove of my studying. Although, last week, I was pleased to have earned a 95% on my stats midterm, despite not studying as hard as I typically do for exams of that importance. Perhaps just a fluke of nature.

I’m trying, guys. I really am trying, to regain my discipline and direction, and push through such low plateaus, with the steadfast hope that light will soon follow.

My life of late has been lacking in direction. In truth, I have yet to figure out what I wish to do with my life. The pre-med track offered me that linearity, predictability and direction that I so crave at this moment. It is high time for me to seek internship opportunities, but to do so is like grasping for thin air. I haven’t the slightest of what I wish to do with my psychology major. Become a clinical therapist? Pursue professorship, and become a quadruple-threat– teacher, researcher, therapist and writer? Maybe I won’t even use my psych major. Maybe I’ll pursue a career as a full-time, freelance writer. That would be cool, if I could somehow make ends meet. I’d embody the archetype of the struggling artist– doing all sorts of odds-and-ends jobs by day, and perfecting my craft by night. If all else fails, at least I can fall back on my skills as an academic tutor, what with my UCLA degree. And I know that my family loves me enough to never let me starve on the streets. Still, I don’t aspire to be living under my parents’ roof at age 30.

And what of dance? Oh, dance… I really do love it. A part of me just wants to take time off between undergrad and grad school– if I decide to pursue grad school, that is– and focus on dance, see where it leads me. Maybe join a cruise agency and work as a performer whilst traveling the world. What’s wrong with doing that? Sure, when you tell someone you are a cruise ship performer, they may snicker inside, or meekly nod their heads out of politeness… or is it pity? Either way, it shouldn’t matter what others think. If I want to dance, travel the world, and get paid for it, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go for it. Another dance-related pipe dream of mine is auditioning for “So You Think You
Can Dance”. My background in gymnastics and ballroom makes for great versatility as a dancer, and performing on a tv show would really challenge my performance anxiety, boost my confidence by lightyears, and open more opportunities in the world of dance. Still another option would be to audition for Broadway. I heard that many Broadway cast members are neither singers nor actors, but trained professionally only in dance– they simply have their mics turned off while on stage! After my recent stint in musical theater, I’ve grown more and more intrigued by this new and beautiful world… I hope to improve my singing and acting skills by getting more involved in UCLA student theater and a capella groups. Dreamer I may be, I am smart enough to recognize that I’ll never be a Broadway star, as I entered the world of musical theater much too late.. but to perform on the Broadway stage, even as a background dancer, would be an experience for the books, nonetheless. And that is all I want– to live and experience fully. I will always be a writer at heart, and to write compelling work, one must have content to write about. My greatest inspiration comes from my physical and spiritual interaction with the universe. I must live to write, and write to live. My muse, then, is not one single thing or person or place, but simply, life at large.

It is 8:05am now. I have Russian class at 9:30am, then the rest of the day is mine. My brother and I are flying back home to the Bay Area tonight at 9:00pm, for Thanksgiving holiday. Will chat with you guys soon!



Toodle-pip! (quote from “Cabaret”)







Coaching the UCLA Gymnastics Team!!!

Hey guys!

It’s 8:41am on this beautiful Friday morning as I write. I’m feeling dazed as I write… You see, this morning, at 7:45am, I had the most amazing experience of leading a 30-minute Latin dance warmup with the UCLA Gymnastics team!

I was invited by the mother of UCLA Gymnastics, Valorie Kondos-Field– colloquially known as “Miss Val”– to give the team a little intro to Latin dance. Miss Val and I had met towards the end of spring quarter last year, when I accosted her in the dining hall. I knew all about Miss Val from pop culture– there was a Netflix movie made about her and the UCLA gymnastics team– and I immediately recognized her upon seeing her at Bruin Plate that fateful morning.

At the time, I was going through my big internal struggle of whether or not to pursue a dance career, against the will of my parents and society. I had already planned on leaving UCLA to focus on dancing back home, in the Bay Area, but was facing some doubt in my decision. I knew Miss Val had been a ballerina in her youth, so I figured that she of all people would understand my dilemma. And so was born my friendship with Miss Val– legendary coach and inspiring human being.

This past quarter, I ran into Miss Val a few more times at John Wooden Center, our university’s main gym. Last week, I texted her, offering to teach the girls some Latin dancing, if she would have me. Little did I know that she would actually accept my offer, and have me show the team– featuring former Olympians Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross– some of my moves!

I was at UCSB for a dance competition when I received Miss Val’s text. My two friends at UCSB who were with me at the time, bore witness to my utter elation upon hearing the news. I was both beyond excited and understandably anxious to teach the UCLA gymnasts how to dance Latin. Look at it from my perspective– I’m probably the biggest fan of UCLA gymnastics in this school (and UCLA’s a pretty big school). There are OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALISTS on the team– Maddie Kocian, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber (the assistant coach). These are girls I’ve long-admired on the television screen. I’d cheer them on from afar as they competed on the world’s greatest stage, longing more than anything to meet them in person… get an autograph… take a picture. And today, I got to do more than that. I got to be their TEACHER. How crazy is that, to have the tables turn the way they did?

I arrived at the gym at 7:45am. The girls were filing in and began doing some warm-up stretches. I chatted with my friends on the team, Anna and Grace (they are identical twins), whilst doing some stretching of my own. Then walked in Miss Val, along with the assistant coach, Chris. Upon seeing Miss Val, I ran up to her and gave her a big hug! I also introduced myself to Chris, who has the bluest eyes ever. Lol.

The girls then lined up single file, facing their coaches. Miss Val made some announcements, during which time I used the restroom. I came back to Miss Val finishing up her spiel. She then said, “Alright ladies, it’s Friday– LATIN DAY!” She pointed over to me– a cue for me to introduce myself to the team. I was nervous, but I delivered my introductory spiel in a relatively calm manner. Judging from their slightly perplexed faces, I suppose the girls had never had a Latin dance warmup before, which made me all the more excited to introduce the beautiful art of Latin dance to these incredible athletes.

We started with a little warmup of neck, chest and hip isolations, as well as some light stretching, to Justin Bieber’s rendition of “Despacito”. After warmup, I taught the girls some basics of salsa, followed by a three minute song to dance to. I then moved on to samba, and did the same– taught the basic steps, then played a song. The last dance of the day was cha cha. Too soon, my 30 minutes of instruction was over.

I didn’t know what took over me when it was time to start dancing… but it was as if all shyness disappeared, replaced by sheer confidence and excitment. No longer did I feel intimidated by the fact that I was teaching some of my greatest gymnastics idols how to dance… As time wore on, I grew more and more at ease with my role as an instructor, and my enthusiasm for dance seemed to spread to the girls, who were laughing and having fun. I repeatedly told the girls to be “sexy” and to not be afraid to “touch [themselves]” and “play with [their] arms/hair”. At one point, during the salsa side basic, I turned around, told the girls to “keep going” while I went around and made some corrections. I walked up to Madison Kocian, 2016 Rio Olympian, and said, “Ready, Maddie?”; then I proceeded to dance the salsa basic in front of her, to show her how it was done. Cheeks flushed, eyes bright up and smile on her face, Maddie looked so happy while dancing– something so out of her element. As did the rest of the girls on the team! Some struggled, while others picked up more quickly… but dance is very different from gymnastics. Gymnastics is a sport of precision and perfection. Dance is all about freedom and creative expression. Latin dance, in particular, is about getting in touch with one’s inner sexuality and femininity. I remember transitioning from gymnastics to Latin, and being freaked out by the idea of touching my body and being “sexy”. Now, almost 3 years later, I wear my sexiness loud and proud, and I’ve grown much, much more confident in the way I carry myself.

I suppose my confidence projected today during the workshop, as Chris, the assistant coach, remarked to me, “You’re amazing! It’s your confidence I admire most about you.” At the end of the warmup, Miss Val told the other girls, “Look at Belicia. She’s only a second year. She came in here today with so much passion for her craft, and completely took charge. No shyness whatsoever.” If only they knew how nervous I was to conduct this warmup, beforehand. Lol.

Overall, this experience was tremendously formative. You see, lately I’ve been questioning many parts of my identity, asking myself whether my past actions and public persona was the true Belicia, or simply the manic-depressive illness talking. I know that, in times of mania, people tend to be unusually confident, charming, charismatic, talkative and socially uninhibited. For most of high school, I suffered from low self-esteem and extreme shyness. I worked hard to overcome my social anxiety and began to open up during senior year of high school. My confidence continued to grow as I transitioned to college– making friends became easier than ever, and my social inhibition shed rapidly. Upon receiving my manic-depressive illness diagnosis, however, I question how much of that increase in social confidence was genuine, and how much of it was my manic self talking.

Today, I was able to lead a group with confidence, without the aid of my illness. That’s a huge step in a positive direction towards gaining genuine self-confidence. I feel more motivated than ever to continue to challenge myself– not only socially, but in every facet of life– to prove to myself that I CAN be successful without the help of my hypomanias.

That’s all for today, friends! Enjoy your night, and I look forward to chatting with y’all soon!







Life Update: Romance, Midterms, Identity Shift


Hi everyone! Happy November! How have y’all been? I apologize for not posting at all this past week. ‘Tis the season of midterms– aka all-nighters at the library, hair-pulling and binge-eating. Not a fun time, but thankfully, it will all be over soon. I think I’m actually handling this round of midterms with more grace than I have in the past. Working hard, yes, but not stressing too hard, like I would in the past. Whatever happens, happens. I try my best, learn the material, give it my all in the exam room, and hope for good results.

Yesterday evening, I had my LS 15 midterm. Professor Phelan’s exams are notorious for being tricky, but with the curve, I should be fine. I have a Russian midterm on Monday and a statistics midterm on Thursday, so my whole weekend will be spent studying.

I actually pulled an all-nighter last night. So I’ve been up for a good 24 hours. I know that, at the beginning of the year, I had vowed to avoid all-nighters at all costs, but last night, I felt it necessary. These past couple days, all I’ve been focusing my energy on was prepping for the LS 15 midterm, at the expense of my other two classes. So now is a game of catch-up in Russian and stats. I biked to the library at around 1:30am, stayed there until 5:00am, headed back to the apartment, busied myself with cleaning and experimenting with my hair– yeah, don’t know why the hell I didn’t just take a nap– and around 7:00am, headed back to campus. It is now 7:45am. I am sitting inside the warm, cheerful Kerkhoff café, writing this post. My fingers itched to write, so write I did.

Things on my mind:

  • romance– or lack thereof
  • low motivation to study
  • midterms, midterms, midterms!

Ah, yes… the topic we all know and love… Romance. Or, in my case, lack of a romantic life. I don’t know, guys… Lately I’ve been feeling apathetic– antagonistic, even– towards the whole concept of romance. Having never had a boyfriend before, a large part of me is terrified of what being in a committed relationship entails. I’m happy as a clam, being single. Nobody but me, myself and I to worry about. Plus, I have so much to sort out with my own crazy mind, I can’t imagine bringing another person into my helter-skelter life, at this point in time. Then again, a part of me feels that, in spurning romance, I am missing out on a very important life facet. I want to experience EVERYTHING (not talking about doing drugs and other vices of that persuasion, to be clear)… and experiencing love is one thing I have yet to familiarize myself with.

Maybe I’m afraid of commitment. Romantic relationships, like with any relationship, takes a LOT of work and maintenance. They are emotionally draining. They can be exhausting.

Maybe I’m working on loving myself first, before letting another person love me. I need to build up a strong pillar of confidence and sense of self-worth, before involving myself in an intimate relationship. I need to know that, with or without such a person in my life, I will be okay.



Hey guys! I’m back! I’ve been busy studying (or trying to get myself to study) for midterms, so I wasn’t able to find time to finish this post ’till now, on Sunday night– the eve of my Russian midterm. Yeah… probably should be studying for my Russian exam, as it is tomorrow morning at 9:30am… but I’ve since renounced the practice of going OVERKILL with my studies. I now study enough to learn the important concepts and get an A on the exam. What really is the difference between an A and A+, anyway? For all the extra time spent studying for a couple extra percentage points, I could be doing other, more meaningful things– dancing, writing, hanging with friends, making beautiful memories.

I’m definitely see a positive change in my mindset and, in turn, lifestyle habits. While I still live with great ambition, I no longer equate my worth with my achievements. Because of this, I no longer feel the need to “prove” myself by striving to achieve exceptional feats (i.e. winning dance competitions, earning perfect exam scores, etc.). And a more recent development– I am learning to stop placing so much of my identity on my ability to work hard. Yes, a strong work ethic is indeed a great quality to have, and it is one I’ve been blessed with. But I am so much more than just a hardworking person. Once I learned to embrace that truth, I no longer felt so much pressure to live up to this ideal of “Belicia the hard worker”. I am no longer so high-strung… so eager to prove myself to others… so afraid of letting loose my reins… I no longer carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. This quarter, I’ve really relaxed a lot more, and I don’t see such a change as a bad thing! In fact, I perceive it as a sign of growth! Less perfectionism; less weight placed on external validation; greater focus on learning and growing.

Slowly, I am channeling my energies outward. I think less about how I am perceived by others, or what my actions say about me. My actions are driven less by the question, “How can I prove my worth?”, and more by that of, “How can I make a positive impact on the world?” The latter question has gradually replaced the former as my driving force. Of course, if you want to make your greatest imprint in the lives of others, you must first become the greatest version of yourself. Such is no easy task, and it is a lifelong journey of constant reflection and maintenance. This is where the importance of introspection comes into play, and this is why I insist on keeping the fog off the windows to my soul. But what is the next step, beyond looking within? It’s using your knowledge of yourself to then give back to those around you. At least, that’s what I believe. I want to somehow make a lasting, positive mark on the souls of individuals, and I will do so with my talents, be it writing, dance, or something completely different.

Alrighty, friends. It’s 11:00pm, and I should get sufficient rest for tomorrow’s midterm. My last midterm of this week is on Thursday, so after then, I should be more free to write! I’ll talk to you guys soon!