Earlier tonight, in trying to take some time properly writing again, I gave myself a project: take this blog post - originally written twelve years ago and actually kind of a personal story I’ve been telling about myself since college - and completely rewrite it from scratch, not referencing the old blog post until after I’ve written a draft.
I’m not necessarily ready to post it to the public just yet - I’m not happy the way it reads right now, and I feel like I need to curate my words just a little better. Maybe soon, probably soon. That said, I have some thoughts about the whole process.
So that’s where I stand right now. Off I go again.
I was a chubby little kid when I was 8. Got the mental image in your head? Okay, it’s even chubbier than that. No, seriously. A couple of pounds more… there ya go. That was me.
You see, I was the only son, the mama’s boy, and as such, I was spoiled. Add to this the fact that my mothers biggest fear was watching starving Ethiopians on television and then imagining her dear son’s face on one of the of the babies, and there ya go. “He needs to eat!” my mom would scream to my protesting dad and sister in Chinese. “He needs to grow taller!”
She says this, of course, as she prepares me an egg and mayonnaise sandwich for breakfast.
One day, my dad had enough of this. In the middle of breakfast, he slammed his chopsticks on the kitchen table with such force that I turned pale. “You’re stuffing him LIKE A PIG!” He screamed in his ex-military voice. This apparently upset my mother a bit, so she said the most logical thing you can say when someone accuses you of stuffing your son like a pig:
"Fine. You don’t want me to stuff him? I WON’T FEED HIM AT ALL!" Yep. She said that.
And of course, I did the most logical thing you can do when you’re eight and your parents are screaming at each other: I ran to the backyard, crying. Eventually, my dad feels guilty about what he”s done and he stands under the door to the backyard holding a glass of non-fat milk. “Here,” says my dad. “Drink the milk.” No less than 10 seconds later, my mom appears in the bathroom window, which connects to the backyard. She’s mouthing a phrase to me through the window: “Don’t you DARE drink the milk.
I’m eight years old. I look over to my dad. Drink the milk! I look over to my mom. Don’t drink the milk!
And I don’t remember what happens after that. I’ve repressed it from my memory.
You know, after typing this story out, the story sounds less humorous than it actually is. I mean hey, my parents are cool in a neurotic way, for the most part. And I’m a sane, well adjusted person, right? But every once in a while, I’ll have a major life changing decision to make and I ask myself what my parents would say. And as I close my eyes and I see their smiling faces, they would smile and tell me: “Drink the milk… don’t you DARE drink the milk.”
I’ve heard remarks among the staff that there was probably a group of two hundred folks from the south on this cruise, mostly retirees from Texas and Louisiana. This sounded accurate. They traveled around the ship in packs, wearing their college and professional sports logos like tribal markers.
It happened when Mom and I were in the elevator with two men in their sixties, each wearing different college logos. “Auburn, huh?” said one. “Roll tide!” He playfully punched the other guy in his shoulder, though other guy wasn’t really feeling it. “Yeah, roll tide,” the other guy muttered as he scurried out of the elevator. It didn’t occur to me that they were strangers until later.
I wasn’t sure if Mom was aware of all the Americana surrounding her. She politely ignored the whooping and the big hair and the sweatshirts with the anti-Obama slogans around her, the same way the Texans politely ignored her or the other ethnics on the boat.
Or she just didn’t care, unless it directly affected us. The only time it really got to her is when we boarded the excursion bus and I got solidly whacked in the head by a backpack full of tripods and camera equipment by a man trying to get to a seat. He muttered something — I think it was to me? And I turned around to notice this fanny pack resting firmly on his paunch before he sat down across the aisle, leaning against the window for a quick snooze.
“Did he hurt you?” Mom asked in Mandarin. ”I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”
“Maybe if he wasn’t so fat,” she continued, “he would get to his seat without knocking anyone over with bag he’s carrying.”
“Ma, it’s okay, I promise.”
“The bag that he is carrying on his back, full of his layers of back fat.”
“Why? None of these people can’t understand us.”
And now you jinxed it, I thought to myself. The man looked our way and my mom scowled at him. But he saw past us and did a quick scan of everyone on the bus before falling asleep again.
There was actually a decent amount of Chinese folks on this trip. Most most of these tourists were from Mainland China; they didn’t dress or act like my parents who immigrated through Taiwan, and I certainly didn’t see another Asian-American I could trade battle stories with at the bar. We watched a family at the Caribou Post lunch counter, where we had a 45 minute lunch between the bus ride through the Yukon and the two hour scene train ride through the White Pass, back to Skagway.
They chatted away — three generations of family, the same Mandarin that Mom and I spoke, but with a soft “r” sound at the end of some of their characters, the lilting Beijing accent.
Everyone in the group wore matching athletic fleece jackets in various bright primary colors, as if the Wiggles gave up singing children’s songs and opened up an industrial factory somewhere in the Chinese countryside. The cultural revolution was clearly dead, but all of Chairman Mao’s unisex Red Guard shirts and hats were replaced with generic ski jackets. I’d guess that they were newly wealthy, given the Chinese economy lately and all the stories you hear about in the news. They picked over their barbeque chicken and baked bean lunch plates and the woman marched to the front to pay for the entire party afterward, casually reaching inside her purse with what I imagined was a stack of hundred dollar bills.
Mom surveyed the mess they made from where we sat,their paper plates and chicken bones and knives and forks strewn about the table. “Those people need to clean up after themselves,” she said in Chinese, loudly.
“Ma, they speak Chinese too.”
Mom fluttered her eyes. “OF COURSE,” she said in English, just loud enough for them to hear. It was her language of choice when she wanted to patronize.
But the mainlanders do not hear, or they do not care. Either way, they were on vacation, and by then they were already at the gift shop ready to buy a whole bunch of sweatshirts that say “YUKON” to send home to hundreds of nieces and nephews. Can’t lose face, you know.
Two of them actually tried to strike a conversation the day before, while we waited for the elevators outside of the Stardust Theater on deck five. “Excuse me,” an older man mom’s age said to my mom. He was with a female companion, probably his wife or sister. “I notice you both speak Chinese.”
“Yes, we do,” Mom said. She was polite, but stone-faced.
“Oh. Where are you from?” meaning, of course, what part of China.
“We’re from California. Well, not him,” she said, pointing at me. “He moved to Florida.” Because I am a bad son.
“I see. We’re from Tianjin. Well, perhaps we will see you around the ship.”
“Yes, perhaps,” Mom said. Two elevator cars opened and my mom took the elevator farthest from us, apart from the other couple. When the doors closed, I shook my head as I pressed the button for the top deck, fourteen.
“You shouldn’t do that,” I said to her.
“You need to make more friends, Ma. We’ve had this conversation before.”
“What do I have in common with them? You think we are all going to be friends just because we speak the same language? Please.”
Incorrigible, but she had a point.
A couple of hours later we stretched our legs at a rest area in Carcross, a remote outpost that probably once had provisional items to trade, now gentrified with modern structures to accommodate the bus full of tourists that came in the area. The most popular structure was, of course, the restrooms, where mom waited in line with what seemed like everyone who lived in Texas sixty five and older. The Asians waited in line in the coffee kiosk over, buying out their supply of turkey sandwiches.
Between them was our tour bus driver, who made small talk with anyone willing to engage — the coffee kiosk girl, the slightly older intoxicated Carcross native on the park bench, or a fellow bus driver also on a sanctioned potty break. I started to eavesdrop when the other driver mentioned his job was a piece of cake, now that there was all of these tourists from China or Hong Kong or wherever they came from. A guy from the tour group just talks about the locations in Chinese now, he said between drags of his cigarette. He doesn’t even have to talk anymore - just drive a bus and get paid. But, you know, it is what it is.
The younger bus driver and I made awkward eye contact at that point. I gave him a nod. “Hey,” I wanted to say. “I’m not one of them! I’m an American, just like you! And while I may have high amounts of irony and sarcasm, I love the things you like, like pizza and Coldplay!” Okay, maybe a little less Coldplay.
Those are all things I wanted to say, and I may have had a chance to say it, if my Mom hadn’t walked up from her trip to the bathroom and pointed out the guy who whacked me on the back of my head with the camera and the back fat, gulping down soft serve vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone.
“AI-YO. SEE?” she points out to me in English, slapping me on the arm. “I TOLE YOU.”
When your gay friends from California visit you in South Florida.
I think every Jewish parent wants their son to marry a doctor, and that’s exactly what he did. —
Randi Zuckerberg, on why her brother - Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook - married an Asian girl.
You know, if I still was the editor-in-chief of a blog about Asian American issues, I would use this as troll-bait for all the anonymous misogynist angry Asian males that hide behind screen names. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.
The multipurpose room of the Chinese for Christ Church in Berkeley, California had all the elements of what a non-denominational Chinese church should have, I guess: gray short-thread carpet, metal cross on a wall, next to a framed poster of the Chinese translation of Psalms 23 - Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want - hung above the double doors which led to the church’s kitchen areas.
I forgot what the church looked like until I saw a photo of it on Google Street view, and there it was, just as I remembered it - it’s where our entire family went every Sunday, my grandmother and my parents and my sister and I. The pillars were had a fresh coat of paint; no sign of the grubby handprints from the same kids playing tag, numerous home bases for dozens of years. Kiki and Nelson was there every week, along with Joy and Johnny who were the kids of Ina, the Sunday School teacher, and Mary and Christine Ma, two sisters who had fair skin and blue eyes, but spoke perfect Mandarin. We fidgeted in our folding chairs as Ina would tell the stories of the bible, from the fall of humanity through Adam and Eve in Genesis to the fall of humanity in Revelations, paper figures in peril against felt backdrops representing hell; our church was non-denominational, but a little fire and brimstone didn’t hurt anyone. We sung our prayers in the form of a memorized Chinese song, then line up afterwards for lunch and eat with the adults from the Chinese language services - white rice, usually served with ground pork, and pickled vegetables on Styrofoam plates.
Today was a special day. In the corner of the room was a baby blue hot tub without any working jets, used as a baptismal pool. Usually the hot tub would be covered with a secured piece of plywood and casual visitors would just assume that the structure was part of the architecture of the room, like a corner alcove not planned out well enough.
But there we were, baptismal pool uncovered on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in rows of metal folding chairs pulled out from the storage closet, more than usual during Sunday School. Grandma was with me, and while she’s pretty much the reason why we all went to church, it was a special event for her not rush home back to the senior center in the afternoons to play mahjong.
We watched a group of eight to ten men and women wearing canvas-colored tunics walk out of the double doors - mostly older Chinese immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China, maybe some in their twenties.
My teenage sister, noticeably younger than the other people standing next to her, sat at the end. Also in her plain tunic, hair to the side, face looking rounder, eyes looking smaller without the pair of giant eyeglasses that framed her face.
I squirmed in my seat, uncomfortable seeing my sister in anything but jeans or a brightly colored t-shirt, and grabbed onto my grandmother’s hand. “Shh, not now,” she said to me in Mandarin, and placed her weathered hand on my head, grooming my hair.
Tien Mushi - or Pastor Tien - stood by the baptismal pool to greet the participants. A shorter man in his fifties with his hair slicked back; he had a poised, slightly effeminate demeanor, as if he was an understudy to the lead in Madame Butterfly, waiting for his big break to come. But he was a man of God, and when he spoke in his sing-songy Mandarin, it was about his love for Christ rather than anything salacious.
A couple of weeks before, I saw Tien Mushi talking to my sister upstairs in one of the side rooms overlooking the main chapel, where mothers could bring their crying babies while the sermon piped in through an old speaker. My dad was up there too, his brow crinkled, his arms crossed. Their whispers were urgent, pointed, a direct contrast from Angela’s heavy sobs. “I’m sorry,” she wailed, loud enough to move away from the door where I was pressing my ear. The three continued throughout the afternoon, the wailing of my sister, then their heads bowed in prayer, then more hushed voices, prayers, and Angela crying some more.
Grandma squeezed my hand. The sacrament started and we watched the pastor and his assistant stand in the baptismal pool, barefoot and their black dress pants rolled up above the knee. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t like it myself when I stepped in puddles and the bottom of my pants got wet, and he must have hated that, too. One by one, each person walked to the front, affirmed their faith in silent prayer, and then Tien Mushi pulled them back, submerging them in the water, bringing them up immediately as they transform into a new brother or sister in Christ. The room is silent, save for his repeated monologue, the sound of water splashing everywhere.
When it was my sister’s turn, she stood in front of us, eyes to the floor, hair draped over her face. The men braced her as Tien Mushi repeated his script in Chinese, and then again in English with a heavy accent: I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
They pulled her into the water. She’s down for one second, two seconds, three seconds, and was this how baptisms take? Why were they trying to hurt her? I could feel her struggle but by the time I want to stand up from my chair they are already raising her upright from the water. I could see her overwhelmed by the sensations, the loud splashing and cold, wet fabric from my sister’s robe and the pastor’s shirt clinging against her skin. She covered her face with her hands and wiped the black hair away from her face, and her shivering turned into something louder, angrier. She started to heave and I’m not sure if was the chlorine water that must have gone up her nose and mouth, but upon second glance she’s sobbing uncontrollably.
Everyone around me shifted in their seats uncomfortably, unsure if she’s crying because she’s overcome with the spirit or from something darker. Emotionally and spiritually exhausted, she is led back through the double doors to dry out and change into street clothes.
I turned to my grandmother, wondering I should be scared about what’s happening to her. Instead, her eyes are closed and she nods repeatedly, her palms resting on her lap turned upward, believing that her soft chanting can bring salvation faster. “Ganxie Yesu, ganxie yesu. Ha li lu ya,” she says repeatedly. Thanks be to Jesus, thanks be to Jesus, Hallelujah.
"Paul? Paul, we need you to wear a collared shirt. Just for the photo shoot, Paul. We promise you won’t need to shave the beard, Robert was only joking with you. Paul? Please Paul, don’t be difficult. Just come to the photo studio at 3pm as promised. Thanks." - Melanie Honnor
Duuudebanh mi and a cubano sammwuch mixed #birkshire #denver #phoeveralone
I love banh mis and I love cubano sandwiches but the jury is still out on this one.
Also, they lose points for not calling this sandwich “the red scare.”