Asia Mei : Interview 40
Asia Mei is the chef and owner of Moonshine 152, a restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts that blends American, Asian, and street food inspirations. She also has trained for Olympic gymnastics and as a martial artist in the styles of Wushu and Northern Style Kung Fu. If that's not enough of a resumé, she also worked as a stuntwoman in Hollywood, and studied biology, economics, and education at Boston College. Whew!
Asia and I snagged a table at Moonshine 152 and chatted about feeling lost in life choices, accepting the inevitability of death, and finding “the zone.” And of course she answered Five Questions. Meet Asia.
What’s your greatest fear?
I try not be scared of anything. My biggest fear is not realizing my full potential or having a life where the choices I make have to do with being scared of succumbing to mediocrity or forgetting the passions that I have, the things I like, what drives me. Or settling for a mundane lifestyle or what I’m “supposed” to do versus what I actually like to do myself.
Me: Have you had moments when you’ve felt you weren’t living up to your potential?
Asia: Yeah, definitely. I was getting scared before my last year of college, before I was going to graduate. I had majored in biology and economics and minored in education, I was in the honors program at Boston College, and despite all these things, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. At points like that—and I can be a big planner—I felt lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do. But even at that point, you just have to sit down and pare it down to what simply drives you and remind yourself, “This is what I like. This is what I want to do day-to-day. These are things that are important to me.” And just keep faith. If anything, I think people feel the most lost when they’re trying to force it. You need to remind yourself, “Don’t fucking force it, just let it happen and keep your eyes open and it’ll be fine.”
I’ve never had to worry about not being responsible enough or not being driven enough. That’s also why I excel in the kitchen…I respond well to hierarchy. Whether it’s gymnastics or martial arts or whatever, I love learning basics, I love training basics, and doing my very best with those, and then every day you just push harder, faster, better, and things progress naturally that way. The kitchen is the same way. I grew up in restaurants that were chef-owned and I didn’t realize what an impact that would have on me at the time. Being the chef-owner of a restaurant now, I followed suit. It’s a huge sacrifice and a gigantic commitment for sure. That can be very overwhelming and definitely scary, but even then…it’s not smart to not be scared of anything. It’s not smart to not be daunted at times. But at the same time, you shouldn’t let it overwhelm you. That won’t get you anywhere. So I’ve been worried about what’s going to happen, but those times have been when I reminded myself about what’s important and then you, moment by moment, keep on going.
What's one thing you don't know now, but feel compelled to know before you die?
I’m not religious at all. But I’ve never really had an impression that I was long for this world. I wouldn’t mind getting old, but I don’t particularly plan for it. I try to live each day more or less as if it could be my last. Or if I died this year, whenever, I think I had a good run, I gave it my all, and there was a good balance between living day-to-day but also having been able to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, to have a good time, to not be a shit-bag to other people, and to just be the person that I would want other people to be to me. I’ve been able to do that. I’ve been inspired by a lot of people, and I want to live a life that repeats that cycle and inspires other people. Between all of those things, I’ve never really believed in things like the meaning of life or one big purpose, I do my own little thing in my own little corner of the universe and that’s all I have.
Me: I appreciate that. I have similar thoughts. I had two strokes a couple of years ago, so that was a big a moment like, “Holy shit, I think I’m going to die” and I didn’t die. So that’s a crazy experience. But I had been living before that like, “I could die at any point.” So I feel you and I don’t find that morbid at all. We could walk out the door and who the hell knows what’s going to happen? So why would I…
Asia: Things happen every day that remind us—I try to take care of myself in general, plus my body wasn’t made for partying, which is unfortunate. No matter how much I practice, I’m a terrible drinker…
Me: How much you practice! I picture you sitting at home doing reps of shots. [Laughter]
Asia: I like to have a good time, it’s great, but I try to take care of myself. The great thing is the things I like to do, sports and stuff, happen to go hand-in-hand with that, but even then, given all that…
Me: …stupid shit could happen.
Asia: Yeah! You just don’t know.
What's the most beautiful thing you’ve ever experienced?
I really love animals. I have three dogs, a chinchilla, and two sugar gliders. I definitely have a lot of moments, especially when everybody’s living in harmony, we’re all playing together or we’re just napping, there’s a really warm, calm energy that comes around when you have that very simple, friendly, animal love. It’s a good thing.
Also, I’ve been very lucky—the type of person I am is very all or nothing, I don’t date around a ton, I’m definitely a serial monogamist—but I’ve never regretted being in love with that person. I don’t really care if things work out for forever or not, but I believe in how valuable it is to know that when you are in a relationship with somebody, there’s that love and intimacy of being lucky enough to be in love with your best friend at the time. There’s something really special about that. I don’t know if that’s silly or not, but it’s always the way I’m going to be.
I love being able to look back on my life and think about the times where I was flipping around and flying through the air when I was doing stunts in L.A. or gymnastics or working with fire on the line or going dancing… I love dynamic environments. It’s really special to me to be able to do that now, even at 36, to be able to do that stuff physically. Some of my happiest times are when I’m working out by myself in an empty room with a big floor, a mirror, and some great music. There’s something about that balance in life that I like to be able to find. Those are my happiest times.
Me: Kind of like “the zone.”
Asia: A thousand percent!
Me: When you’re on the line, doing martial arts, doing gymnastics, have you had moments when you feel detached from yourself? Not out of body in a religious sense, but out of body when you’re just on.
Asia: I don’t think I feel detached, but the great feeling for me is when I’m so in the zone or so focused, that the good thing is—well, maybe you are detached because you’ve trained the fundamentals and they’re so ingrained in you, that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing.
Me: You’re like watching yourself.
Asia: Yeah, for sure. It’s also nice to step back and know that you’re executing on a level that’s pretty unique and not everybody can do. And as it turns out, it comes pretty naturally to you because you’ve dedicated the time and the practice and all those hours to do it.
How do you define being “in love”
It’s hard for me to define, but I know it when I feel it. I’ve always been attracted to—I don’t have a single type, but if anything, my type is funny. That’s a big thing. Our senses of humor need to be on par because I associate that with everything from intelligence to being able to identify with somebody, it speaks a lot to values and your perspective on life. Being in love is when you can’t stop thinking about that person and you just really feel like you would do anything for them and you also know whatever you feel for them comes full circle back to you. I believe in reciprocity. I believe in passion. I believe that there’s just no forcing of anything, it’s natural. And it would be impossible to turn off even if you wanted to. So love in it’s most basic form is just awesome.
What will you miss the most when you’re gone?
Spending time with my friends and really, truly loving the friends that have not only loved me through so many things, but all the experiences we’ve gone through together. I would miss caring for the people who I enjoy being there for. I’d miss being dynamic. I like doing things, I like moving, I like building things with my hands, putting teams together, training, interacting with people. On a personal level, doing things like working out, dancing, tumbling around, those are things I’d miss that do with myself. But with others, I’ve aways enjoyed coaching. Whether it was gymnastics or martial arts or being on the line, I’ve always enjoyed doing what I do and then completing a cycle by teaching others who want to learn and seeing them bring that into their own lives. If I can inspire somebody just by doing what I want to do anyway, then that’s perfect. That’s the perfect situation. If they happen to find it inspiring, fucking great. And they would inspire me. It goes both ways. The fact that they’re interested and want to learn, I have something to learn from them too. That feedback, that bouncing of ideas back and forth, is something that I love.