Being Twins Is A 30 Year Curse- Part 1/4
Being one half of "The Twins" and its curse.
Tim’s turning 30. So what, who cares?
Honestly, good question. That’s the point of this “event”.
See, here’s the thing-- Tom and I are twins. For those of you who are new, Tom is the co-founder of the company, who has since left. We grew up in the way that twins usually are raised-- that is to say, we shared everything, had matching clothes, and so on and so forth for a long time. We were born in China during the era of the One Child Policy, so having twins was considered a huge blessing, and any families with twins would become relatively well known within social circles.
When we moved to the USA at age 3, this type of “twin prestige” still carried over from all the Chinese-Americans who also moved to the USA, and my parents were happy to indulge a little in this attention. Who could blame them? It seems harmless, having twins be dressing the same, having similar names like Tim and Tom, and otherwise doing everything to play up the rarity of twins in that little section of Asian America.
These things were not done out of maliciousness, nor even ignorance, as it’s even now that I struggle to come to terms to understand the effects even something innocuous, like being a twin, had on me.
See, when you’re a twin, you lose a chunk of your own identity. You belong to a pair- a nebulous group that you never signed up for, an entity that isn’t allowed to form an identity for itself but takes away yours nonetheless. You become one member of The Twins.
When I was young, I was okay with this. It was easier, in a way, to not think, to simply accept that this was the normal, and believe that by and large, everyone else’s identity was assigned in a similar way, and I’m sure it is for some others.
But the more we were exposed to American culture, the more we learned about the concepts of freedom, individualism, and self-expression, the more we began to diverge. Unconsciously, we selected polar opposite likes from each other in order to differentiate ourselves, even while being a part of The Twins. Tom chose the color red as his favorite color-- Therefore, I chose blue. Tom chose fire, and so I chose water. Tom decided to pursue art, and so I chose to write.
There was a certain irony in these choices, and a poetry in the way we had decided to be individuals within The Twins. Perhaps, in their own way, our parents had recognized in some subconscious way of this need for individualism, and so the way our names had been constructed in Chinese only served to amplify this effect.
See, in Chinese, my formal name is Jian Zheng (郑剑), with the literal meaning of “Sword,” while Tom’s name is, Shu Zheng (郑书) or “Book.” This also creates a homonym of “Zheng Shu” and “Zheng Jian,” which, when translated directly from their spoken form without the context of the character and name, becomes synonyms with the rough equivalent definition of “Document.”
Different, but same. Opposites, yet still just two faces of the same coin.
Our nicknames in Chinese belie a similar thought-- I am “天天,” or Sky, and Tom is “洋洋,” or Ocean. Ironic, then, that when we began to shift and differentiate from each other in the ways that we knew how, we only played into this narrative, isn’t it?
In the end, we were so desperate for this differentiation that we would pick these things against our better judgment, and even hamstring ourselves to keep this separation. At the start, I was more skilled at art than Tom was, and so he tried extremely hard to improve, seeing that I was better than him. Me, seeing that he was trying so hard, instantly assumed that art must be what he was passionate about, and therefore started to care less, and moved towards other pursuits again. When we began taking writing classes, I saw that Tom could create vivid scenery and emotional story beats with his words, and wanted to do the same, and worked hard at writing. I suspect a similar thing happened there.
This story carries itself across our entire lives, with few chances to truly be different and explore ourselves as individuals away from The Twins entity. And every time there was a celebration, every time there was a birthday, it never felt like it was quite for one of us. It was never Tim’s birthday, or Tom’s birthday-- It was a birthday for The Twins.
Tom and I were bystanders, sitting there celebrating The Twins like everyone else, wondering when it would be our turn to be celebrated.
On Thursday, we’ll have been wondering for 30 years.
I’ve always been chaotic, ambitious, cacophonic in my nature; unabashedly loud, rash, and reckless.
Or at least, I would be.
Because in these past 30 years, if I tried too much to be me, I would be dragged down, because that discordant nature of mine would define The Twins, and catch Tom in the crossfire.
If I did anything that some thought unseemly, it would embarrass The Twins.
If I argued passionately for what I believed in and upset people, it would reflect poorly on The Twins.
If I fought and shouted and struggled, it would fall on The Twins.
But worst of all, if I had any pride in what I’d achieved... It wasn’t mine. It was The Twins.
You see, Vite Kitchens was, in many ways, the final curse of The Twins. Tom and I had been apart, and had grown in times where we were allowed to be our individual selves. But after I had left the culinary industry, and after I had begun college again, the famous story that we tell took root.
That we ended up, even after our respective journeys in the early twenties, in the same apartment, going to the same college, slated to graduate in the same year, even after the vastly different paths we had embarked on.
And, you see, when I came up with what I wanted, when I wished for the noodles that would become Vite Ramen, we were pushed by the incorporeal social pressures to do it together. The nutrition major and the chef. The economics major and the marketer. The sword and the book, the sky and the ocean.
50/50. Different sides of the same coin once more.
This wasn’t what Tom wanted. He had his own fledgling business then, a detailing business that he was strongly passionate about, and had an ever increasing portfolio of rare vehicles and eager customers.
This wasn’t what I wanted. I’d been talked to, again and again, about the troubles with family in business within my major, and the trials and tribulations for Tim and Tom that turns up in time. This wasn’t my passion, or my dream-- simply something that happened. (If you’re interested more in that, read 2021 in review)
See, The Twins tore Tom’s dreams away from him, and made me falsely believe that this was what we both wanted. It wasn’t fair to him. It wasn’t fair to me. My workloads were consistently greater than Tom, from operations to construction to mechanical maintenance and R&D and business spreadsheets and compliance, and I began to resent him for it.
Because, after all, wasn’t this a 50/50 partnership? Wasn’t this supposed to be us? Wasn’t this supposed to be the culmination of the achievements of The Twins, where the fabled brothers create something great together?
Tom’s health deteriorated. His ways were methodical, detail oriented, leaving no stone unturned, and in the end, far too slow for the needs of a startup like ours, where we had to do everything ourselves to make up for our lack of capital investment. The stress piled on as the tasks piled on, and we began to argue, more and more. Me, because I felt as if he wasn't doing enough, and him, feeling that I was too rash and didn’t give enough time for the correct decisions to be found.
And finally, in one of these arguments, I learned the truth. That he was cursed by The Twins, just as I was.
He had been pushed into the company, into doing marketing that he had previously no experience or education in, into being a 50% owner, despite everything, because everyone had thought it would be such a good story. Everyone had thought it’d be a neat little thing, a real inspirational tale, and everyone leaned on him, leaned on me, pressed on us to make their trifling fantasy a reality.
From parents, to friends, to professors, to everything and everyone and the intangible pressure mounted, again, and again, and again, and again, and again until we couldn’t say no, couldn’t do anything but to accept this fate and this curse and the inevitable heartbreak, conflict, and pain it would cause.
That was the day that Tom and I talked. That was the day when we listened to each other, and not The Twins, and shut them out.
Tom left the company more than a year ago because of the stress and the toll it was taking on his health. But in leaving the company, he also took the first steps to the beginning of this long, difficult healing process from the wounds that The Twins have left.
Because, you see...
I want to be me. Unapologetically, divisively, vehemently me.
I want to laugh and act the fool, I want to struggle and upset delicate traditions, I want to do so much and be so much and be proud of every step, every failure, every success, and for once, have it be mine, and mine alone.
Not The Twins, not Tom, not the family.
And this time, finally, be known, and be celebrated, and be acknowledged for the hardships I’ve been through, the struggles I’ve faced, and the mountains of seemingly insurmountable challenges I’ve overcome.
These scant few days, these words and videos and creations are me, and mine. It is my declaration that I am not, and will not be The Twins any long. That Vite Kitchens, forwards and forever more, will be run not by what The Twins wanted, but what I want.
Me. Jian “Tim” Zheng.
This is my pressure, held under for 30 years, erupting out in many expressions-- some gloomy and introspective, some wild and cringe, some spilled out in a single, uncontrolled and wonderfully chaotic way.
And I will be proud of who I am, what I do, and what I create.
Enjoy all the coming content, some video, some audio, some poetry, some blogs.
And it’ll still be me.
-Jian “Tim” Zheng, CEO/Founder of Vite Kitchens
Well written and very poignant! I always wanted to be a twin or have twins, and now I see the other side of the coin, as you say. I love Vite Ramen for the tastes, for the support of an ethical company, for your entrepreneurship, and for the heart and soul you put into your brand. Thanks for sharing yourself and your products with us!
Identical twin here!
Many parts of your story resonated with me — identical clothing, hairstyles, clothes. My color was pink, my twin’s was green. Cute matching names. I was lucky, though, in that my family did not lump us together other than appearance.
But lots of others did! My band director in high school never did bother to keep straight which of us played flute, and which clarinet. We were called “Bobbsey Twins” in middle school (which is just infuriating — IYKYK).
I fought hard to go to a different college, where I could just be me. Not be greeted with, “Are you the music one or the education one?”
We’ve followed different paths, and live very far from each other, but at age 53, we’re still super close and hang out together on Zoom every Saturday.
Thank you for sharing your story, and kudos to you and Tom for figuring out what needed to be done, and doing it.
And FWIW, I never thought of y’all as “The Twins”, but as “Those guys who make the awesome ramen and pay a living wage”.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some noods to buy! I’m running low. (Today’s lunch was vegan miso, with a couple eggs dropped in, and a large dollop of kimchee)
As I read this, I was worried that you were going to announce that Vite Ramen was going to close, and while I would understand it, I’d be devastated. The search for identity can be a long and difficult one. I wish you (and Tom) all the best no matter where you end up in your search. Happy birthday!
What a great post! I have never thought about the impacts that being a twin could have (as I’m not one), and hearing your story opens my eyes to the challenges twins, triplets, etc. deal with due to their unique birth. I really appreciate your thoughts, history, and insight on what’s is like being a twin, and I’ll definitely keep it in mind whenever a meet other like yourself, or even if I’m blessed to have twins of my own someday. I hope you have a great day and continued success with Vite Ramen!
A very difficult journey for you both. You and your brother have a lot to be proud of!