Posts tagged with "Chinese culture"

hey, c'mon

He’s only 40, an age I’d still con­sider young for a doc­tor. I see the fea­tures of so many of my Chinese peers in his face, though he’s actu­ally an Irish expat. Family and a restau­rant sealed his par­ents deci­sion to emi­grate to the Emerald Isle when he was too young to speak. It explains why his con­ver­sa­tional dic­tion is impec­ca­ble while some spo­ken con­so­nants are merged or lost, a famil­iar accent from being born into a Cantonese fam­ily. This imme­di­ately puts me on my guard. I’ve rarely got­ten along with those peers; the cul­ture hasn’t been kind.

But I’m not here for myself. I didn’t even make the appoint­ment, which is why I don’t know what to say.

Thankfully, he takes the lead and takes his time. The ques­tions cover a mot­ley gamut, and I can tell how com­pre­hen­sive his notes are through the clack­ing of the keyboard.

At some point he asks if any­one came with me, and I tell him who’s in the wait­ing room. He kindly offers to speak to her on my behalf, but she already knows. It’s the only rea­son I’m telling this story another time. I can’t help admit­ting how humil­i­at­ing it is to be so depen­dent on oth­ers, to need peo­ple like her so des­per­ately some­times that I can’t imag­ine how I’d sur­vive with­out them.

Without any change in his pro­ce­dural tone, he says this sen­ti­ment is part of our Chinese guilt. We dis­ap­point our par­ents by not being strong enough to live up to their expec­ta­tions as self-reliant adults, but they pre­vent us from grow­ing up by treat­ing us like chil­dren and refus­ing to let us make our own deci­sions. He knows, cause he’s gone through the same thing. At the same time, he never con­dones my feel­ings, offer­ing a reas­sur­ance that we all han­dle things dif­fer­ently, and that we can’t do it alone some­times. It tells me he doesn’t just lis­ten; he cares.

Before send­ing me off with a dose of Pristiq, he hands me a sealed enve­lope — on it writ­ten “emer­gency room let­ter” — and tells me to give it to the doc­tor at the Queensway-Carleton, while care­fully sug­gest­ing I have noth­ing to lose at this point. It makes sense, but I’m not ready. Not yet. This is good for now. She’ll thank me for tak­ing this step, one that’s as much for her as it is for me.

After, we hold hands in the car while wait­ing to be com­posed enough to be seen in pub­lic, bass lines wash­ing over us like heart­beats, an affir­ma­tion of rea­sons for and the things I love.

My other Chinese parents

I called Norm tonight. As an inter­na­tional ref­eree1, he’s a fix­ture in the Ottawa table ten­nis com­mu­nity, and runs one of the recre­ational venues in the city. I’ve been try­ing to get in shape for a big project that’ll have me run­ning around a bunch of cam­era gear, and since I’ve given up on find­ing decent Tai Chi instruc­tion for now, it made sense that I go back to the only car­dio exer­cise that didn’t bore me out of my mind.

I haven’t been to this club — or played any kind of table ten­nis, for that mat­ter — in about five years. I missed it as much as I miss make­outs, and it’s prob­a­bly been about just as long. The only peo­ple who were still there were Norm and his wife, Virsanna, as well as two hoary old ladies who must be in their 80s but still man­age to keep up with the rest of us, their teal sweat­pants adorably pulled up past their bellies.

Continue read­ing “My other Chinese parents”…

  1. Basically a level 7 umpire, which is the high­est level, mean­ing he offi­ci­ates the top matches like the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. []

Grandma died

The details are scant, as I only found out second-hand through Darren. They say she was on painkillers and went peace­fully in the hos­pi­tal. It was her pain that scared me most; bet­ter to pass on than live with suf­fer­ing through can­cer and chemother­apy at her age, I always thought.

It brings me com­fort to know that Mina, her trusty and loyal maid, was there with her when she died. Also, to know my aunt will be able to go back home to a nor­mal life, instead of dot­ing on my grand­mother indef­i­nitely after giv­ing up her law prac­tice and leav­ing her hus­band and daugh­ter in Canada.

I called my dad, and he seems to be tak­ing it as well as I am. I learned all my Chinese idioms for death by lis­ten­ing to what he’d say in these sit­u­a­tions. One is some­thing like, “She’s passed her body”, which always sounded very spir­i­tual to me and plays on the Chinese belief that our spir­its pass from this world into an ances­tral realm. Another has some­thing to do with becom­ing “fra­grant” or the smell of incense. But when he asked if I knew, he said, “Did you hear that grandma went?”

I just hope my cousin Priscilla is alright. She’s a pint-sized woman (even by Asian stan­dards) who more than makes up for her small stature with a razor sharp tongue and wit, but she was the most ador­ing grand­child I’d ever met when it came to our ma ma.

All of grandma’s kids were already in Hong Kong to be with her1 — many of them fly­ing in from dif­fer­ent parts of Canada — which is a tes­ta­ment to how impor­tant she was. She was the uni­fy­ing force who tied the fam­ily together. Siblings would make peace with each other out of respect for her, and the peace has lasted.

I’m not sad. I was already sad when I was in Hong Kong last year, on the day I left her. Back then, I made my peace, never expect­ing to have the chance to see her again. Instead, I’m glad to have been able to let her know how much she meant to me (even though I wasn’t sure if she remem­bered, with the sever­ity of her Alzheimer’s), to hear her tell her story in her own words, and to cap­ture her voice and char­ac­ter on video.

When I see her smil­ing and hear her voice, I see an inno­cence about her I wasn’t used to see­ing. She was always a strong, classy lady.

  1. The excep­tions being my dad and Darren’s dad, who were fly­ing out yes­ter­day and next week respec­tively, until they heard the news. They’re chang­ing flight plans for the funeral. []

Goodbye, Hong Kong

Boats in harbour

Thumbnail: Cell phone message
Thumbnail: Alley walk
Thumbnail: City Hall construction
Thumbnail: Bakery goods
Thumbnail: Abalone
 

Drinking tong sui

Thumbnail: Door shrine
Thumbnail: Barista
Thumbnail: Billboards
Thumbnail: Candy stand in mall
Thumbnail: Chinese checkers stone
 

Street and people

Thumbnail: More City Hall construction
Thumbnail: Dessert booth
Thumbnail: Expensive shoes
Thumbnail: Flower vendor
Thumbnail: Grandmas holding hands
 

Abalone

Thumbnail: Mirror self portrait
Thumbnail: Murray House
Thumbnail: Music listener
Thumbnail: Neon sign
Thumbnail: Open area
 

Street person

Thumbnail: Pacific Coffee Company
Thumbnail: Roadside snack
Thumbnail: Seaside properties
Thumbnail: Smokers
Thumbnail: Soccer against mountain
 

Chestnut stand

Thumbnail: Temple doorway
Thumbnail: Apartment view
Thumbnail: Holding hands
Thumbnail: Water shipper
Thumbnail: Wedding photos
 

Cracked turtle shells

Thumbnail: Stanley Market
Thumbnail: Stanley waterfront
Thumbnail: Sundries stand
Thumbnail: Taking blood pressure
Thumbnail: Tea machines
 

Airport waiting

I’ll miss the way you com­fort me with crowds. I’ll miss the smells of your streets. I’ll miss your alleys and their sto­ries. I’ll miss your mix of clas­si­cal and con­tem­po­rary. I’ll miss the diver­sity of your food.

You made me feel com­fort­able, like I belonged some­where, and with all your rich and some­what mys­te­ri­ous cul­ture, renewed my pride in being Chinese.

It’ll be a long time before I see you again.

Goodbye, you beau­ti­ful city. I miss you already.

(Mis) Understanding Art

Few peo­ple in my fam­ily seem to under­stand my art.

When they look at my pic­tures, they make com­ments about the qual­ity, or whether or not they’re smil­ing, or ask how much money I make. It’s never about the mean­ing, or my intent, or what I’m try­ing to express. Only one of them saw what I was going for in com­pos­ing this photo of my grandma and aunt with the poster in the background.

They also talk through my videos when watch­ing them, when every bit of pac­ing is impor­tant, miss­ing sig­nif­i­cant estab­lish­ing shots.

Maybe it’s the cul­ture. Very few Chinese kids are allowed to be artists, as it’s seen as too risky or imprac­ti­cal. My gen­er­a­tion of fam­ily seems to be full of accoun­tants, and engi­neers, pro­gram­mers, or any­thing else with secu­rity. Even though piano or vio­lin lessons are com­mon (I can’t think of a sin­gle Chinese friend who didn’t take piano lessons at one point), it’s more of a sta­tus sym­bol to be able say that you can afford the pri­vate lessons and instrument.

This is prob­a­bly why I feel like I don’t relate or can’t speak to most of my fam­ily. When they don’t under­stand my art, they don’t under­stand me.