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.

With a firm hand­shake, Norm asked what was new, and all I could muster was a same old. I could­n’t fig­ure out how I would explain the last five years to him. I went through ther­a­py, got diag­nosed with ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis, start­ed learn­ing gui­tar and how to sing, had my first exhi­bi­tion, quit my Tai Chi stu­dio, fell in love, start­ed a video pro­duc­tion business…how was I going to sum all this up in the time it took to set up the tables?

Although I’m a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent per­son now, at the same time it feels like I’ve come full cir­cle. There was this brief peri­od around 2004 when I start­ed play­ing with this group. I was liv­ing on the 16th floor on Island Park, just start­ing my career, between rela­tion­ships, and sim­ply hap­py. Now it feels like I’m back there again, liv­ing aim­less­ly, with no need for hope cause I’ve come to accept that life is what it is.

And of course the first thing Virsanna said on see­ing me is that I got thin­ner and I need to eat more, as is the habit of Chinese moth­ers. Also, “You’re mar­ried now, right?”, which is some­thing old­er Asian women tend to assume about me, much to my bemuse­ment.

Two hours of play­ing felt like 15 min­utes, leav­ing me feel­ing reaf­firmed and rav­en­ous­ly hun­gry, so I asked them if they want­ed to grab a bite to eat to catch up. We head­ed out to a near­by Chinese restau­rant for siu yeh.

I was nev­er close to them, but Chinese par­ents are rarely close to their kids any­way, and we picked up where we left off. When I start­ed build­ing my rela­tion­ship with my dad after the divorce, I had­n’t talked to him for a few years, but we con­tin­ued in the same man­ner the first time I saw him.

It was great to observe them. Mom speaks Chinese cause she’s famil­iar with it and wants to encour­age you to keep it, dad speaks English to show that he’s capa­ble and adapt­ed to the Canadian way of life. As for me, I stick with English sim­ply out of habit, break­ing into Chinese when an expres­sion is much nicer and can’t be trans­lat­ed. They choose the tea, make orders from the menu, pack the left­overs in the box for me. They even bick­er like my par­ents every now and then. For the first time, it felt like I had some fam­i­ly in Ottawa.

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

One comment

  1. Ah! Siu Yeh.… I miss it, I miss it.… and I miss my Chinese fam­i­ly too… they’re scat­tered every­where now; Canada, San Francisco area, Seattle, Sacramento, Singapore, China prop­er, Hong Kong. I loved being the large blonde book­end in their fam­i­ly pho­tos.

    I feel sor­ry you haven’t mend­ed things with your Tai Chi teacher. Too bad. I guess not mend­able? . You’re not the same per­son you were when you had the falling out.…?.…

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