breadcrumbs: a series of connected events

My Milestone Birthday | A Day of Birth & Death

thank you

Milestone Birthday | A Reverse Birthday Card*

When I began to write this blogpost last night, there was 49 minutes left to my lingering 20s here in San Francisco. However, Facebook wishes already started pouring in from friends and family in Malaysia 15 hours ago, since they’re ahead of us, and then my East Coast friends 3 hours ago while I was still at Cotogna, having a birthday eve dinner with my co-founder Jhony, good friend Gemmy & rock climbing partner Zhenya. I decided to come home to write this blog post as a reverse birthday card, as a big THANK YOU to all of you who’ve been there for me and touched my life. And most importantly, thank you for being part of my life story. I truly believe in this concept that there are very specific reasons why someone appear in my life. I’ve always been able to learn or take away something from them, good or bad. So the culmination of who I am today at 30, is an amalgamation of everyone that I’ve crossed paths with, some longer, some shorter, some deeper, some more shallow.

*admittedly stealing Brett Welch’s uber cool adaptation of a Hobbit’s way of celebrating birthdays

An Outlier | Lucky is An Understatement

My friends have always told me that I’m one of the more hard-working (+stubborn) and driven (+competitive) people they know. I rarely ever believed in pure “luck,” because I believe you make your own luck. But after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers on my recent Mt. Kilimanjaro hike, I understand now how certain factors like where / when you were born, your parental / cultural upbringing, external events that occur during your era, etc can greatly influence your eventual success and how you’re configured as a person. Basically, one cannot attribute one’s success entirely to themselves but also toward their environment, timing, people around them… which frankly… sounds like “luck” to me. I used to think I was unlucky because I was always handed the shorter end of the stick and always had to fight for what I wanted, and sometimes no one would notice all my determination and honest grit. But if I were to look at the brighter side, I can see how I am actually lucky in that my past circumstances has set me up for the stronger, more positive person I’ve become today.

Family photo right before I left Malaysia for the US, about 11 years ago.

Family photo right before I left Malaysia for the US, about 11 years ago.

I’ve also been so very lucky to have a wonderful Mother that is more like my best friend than anything else. I love her dearly and thank her for teaching me patience, affection, courage and kindness… someday, I hope to be like my mom to my children. Although my Dad wasn’t always there, he’s given me the gift of creativity, street-smartness and critical thinking. I’m lucky to have an awesome lil brother & sister who’re both super talented and artistic… and add so much color to my life. I’m lucky that my beloved grandma PoPo raised me and taught me how to speak Cantonese… while I taught her how to speak English 🙂


L-R: Cheryl, Vern Ai, Jai, Mei Zi

I’m lucky to have a wonderful group of high school friends that are still tight and scattered across the world (Jai in Norway, Mei Zi in New Zealand, Vern Ai & Sook Yen in Malaysia, Kah Kheong & Tat Wei in Singapore, etc). I’m so glad my bestest friends whom, even though we may be far apart, I know they will always be there for me in a heartbeat (Amelia in Vancouver, Zoe & David in NYC, Suzanne in LA, Gary in Vegas, Jocelyn in Boston, and Jae right in my backyard in SF). And then finally all the people I’d met post-college and a handful that I’ve grown close to since I moved to San Francisco recently. Thanks for putting up with me and my idiosyncrasies, and for sharing tears and laughter. Thank you Jhony, my co-founder, who’ve kicked it with me for 3.5 long years through thick and thin – we’ve finally made it in the end! Thank you to those of you who’ve inspired me to be a better person, you know who you are.

sky diving

Amelia, Suzanne, Rich & I sky diving in Arizona

PoPo Passing | Birth & Death

At 12.11am PST, my mom called me to let me know that my grandma, whom I’ve always affectionately called PoPo, had choked and stopped breathing about 10 mins ago. 20 mins later, the ambulance arrived and they pronounced her dead just a little past 12am PST. Even though this isn’t my exact birth time, given that I’m in SF, it’s a little eerie that my beloved PoPo passed away right at midnight. She’s my closest grandparent of all and perhaps she wanted me to remember her forever at my birth date. The circle of life refers to the fact that death is not really the end but the seed of some other life. Albert Einstein indirectly spoke of it when he said that energy cannot be created or destroyed; it merely changes form. From Birth to Growth to Reproduction to Death, it’s the in between Birth & Death that we learn from others and pass the torch on to the next generation and the “circle of life” starts all over again. PoPo has been so strong in character from the beginning; as the last surviving grandparent from my family and at 84 with 7 daughters and 3 sons (!!), I think she’s done really well.


PoPo and I, she took excellent care of me growing up

I was connected home throughout the wee hours in the morning via my mom’s iPad1 with no camera, so I could only listen to the door bells, commotion and chatter of our big family all coming together at my mom’s home to prepare for PoPo’s death and funeral. At first, I hear crying in the background and then later when people calmed down, I heard streams of conversations of my mom describing to various people what had happened, moving on into discussions on how they plan for her funeral, what to dress her in, etc. It’s amazing what technology can do in times like these… although I cannot physically be there, yet my ability to hear everything that’s going on allows me to be part of the experience and still feel so connected back home. I’m glad I stayed awake for that…

As much as I’d like to fly home to pay my last respects to PoPo, it takes 2 days (24 hours flight time + 12 time difference) to get there and given that her funeral was on Day 3,  it would’ve been futile for me to get a really expensive last min ticket home only to miss it. Although it’s tough to contain my tears and ignore the deep loss, I know deep inside, PoPo would’ve wanted me to rejoice in her relatively peaceful departure. I think her passing away on my birthday is her way of blessing my path and urging me to continue carrying her torch forward (not necessarily in the # of offsprings, I hope). So rather than mourn, I will choose to celebrate the 84 brilliant years that PoPo have lived and touched people’s lives. I love you PoPo, and will always cherish our moments together; thank you for helping Mommy raise me up.

Life is so fragile. You cannot take anyone for granted and should never hold back from anything. Life live to the fullest and appreciate the people around you now. There is no point waiting for tomorrow, especially if that tomorrow may never come.

My Guiding Principle in Life

I’m not sure when I developed this guiding principle in life, but I always think of two occasions and sort of live my life in reverse: a) my wedding day, and b) my funeral.

wedding party

Wedding Party

For occasion a), I always wonder who will be my bridesmaid and in my wedding party. These are the closest friends that I want to surround myself with when I celebrate the happiest occasion of my life. Hence these are the friends I hold dearly to heart and invest time in. I believe in strong and meaningful friendships so this principle guides me to establish these relationships that hopefully lasts forever.



For occasion b), I always wonder what people would say about me when I die. Would I have affected or inspired people in meaningful ways? Will people miss me? Will people feel like I’ve made a difference either in their lives or in the environment, the community, the world? Have I left a respectable legacy, no matter how small? Even though this sounds morbid, it reminds me that what I want to accomplish, build and leave in this world should affect people in a significantly positive way. More importantly, it reminds me what sort of a person I want people to remember me as.

So 30, Eh? Now What? 

Yes, 30. I’m actually pretty excited for what’s ahead in my 30s. I’ve been through a lot but also accomplished a lot and met a lot of incredible people along the way. There’s so much left to explore and I never want to stop learning, creating and inspiring.

I hope to be able to announce a big move that Reclip.It is taking soon, and an exciting new role that Jhony and I will be playing. In the meantime, all I can say is that I’m very content and happy with where I am at 30; I don’t think I’ve been surrounded by better people, healthier, fitter, more secure, confident, financially secure, self-aware, and positive than before. It took me a long, winding road to get here, but I can only imagine that it will get better from here on! 🙂

I cannot wait to continue celebrating with old and new friends tomorrow at Canteen & the Imagine Dragons concert, and then at Tomales Bay Oysters and Kokkari on Sat. Finally, a triple celebratory meal at the French Laundry with Jhony and our precious mentor, Reuben Katz of Geeklist.

Thank you again, for all you people, your support, your faith in me. You guys have all been amazing to me. Even you random internet people.

6 Responses to “My Milestone Birthday | A Day of Birth & Death”

  1. Brett Welch

    Thanks for the shout out. Really enjoyed your post. Your grandma has a lot to be proud of. And happy birthday!

    • Cheryl

      A belated thanks for your wishes. And you’re welcome. You’re the awesome writer and inspirer here 🙂

  2. Christine Tsai

    Beautiful post. Very timely, as we are grieving over a family loss as well. (husband’s father passed away a couple days ago). ❤

    • Cheryl

      Thanks Christine. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s loss. My deepest condolences and thoughts are with your family! ❤

  3. Rachel W

    This post really hit home for me. I almost lost my PoPo to cancer this summer and she has been one of the largest sources of inspiration in my life. Although I have not reached the 3.0, I ponder about life’s significant moments and what truly matters. Cheryl, I think you’re well on your way to leaving a respectable legacy and as above post has stated, she would very proud of you. Wishing you much happiness and many blessings in life.

    • Cheryl

      Hi Rachel,

      I’m sorry to hear about your PoPo’s cancer but hope she’s recovering well from it. If we think of life as a cycle, we’d be much more at peace when it happens. Every way that your PoPo’s inspired you will appear (birth) throughout your life!

      Thanks for all your nice words and blessings. You seem really sweet and I’m grateful that you took the time to read and leave a comment. Wish you all the best as well.



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