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


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.