Posts tagged with "family"

The Case For Nature (vs Nurture)

When I was young, my dad had a fight with his brother over opening a convenience store next to a pharmacy (my uncle is a pharmacist) in a plaza that my grandmother owned. Both types of stores have lots of competing products, so the argument was about who would be the one to open their store. I guess my dad won, because he bought the convenience store and ran it for quite a few years.

After that, I didn’t see my uncle or his family at all. For so long that I completely forgot that I had a cousin, Crystal.

When my grandmother came from Hong Kong to visit one year, she reunited the families again, and I saw them for the first time in a long while1.

At that time, the popular thing to do was play cards. I had the reputation as being the fastest, most dexterous dealer out of all the kids. But when I went over to my uncle’s house one day and we were playing Asshole, I noticed Crystal dealing exactly the same way I did, except faster, without even paying attention.

It was at that point that I realized, “This person is my family”.

The only other time I had such a stark realization was during my trip to Hong Kong earlier this year. At an international buffet, we grabbed some dessert from the cart and ordered some tea. My uncle, aunt (both siblings of my dad), and I were sitting at the table, with delicious pastries in front of us, but none of us were touching them. When someone asked my uncle why he wasn’t eating his dessert yet, he said that he has to have tea with his sweets. And it turns out that was the exact same reason me and my aunt were waiting too. One of these little quirks that one never expects someone else to have, and sometimes we’re even ridiculed for it, and yet here we were, three people doing the exact same thing for the exact same reason.

I generally believe that humans are more likely a product of their experiences, with a touch of inherited qualities too. After all, I’m almost nothing like either of my parents. It was only these two experiences that made me admit that there’s a little more of us that’s inherited, that we’re a product of our genes, than I would have believed.

  1. I even discovered that I had a new cousin, Darren, who was Crystal’s brother. []

(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.

Grandma's Story

I’ve been trying to get a better idea of grandma’s life, so I’ve been asking her as many questions as possible in the last three weeks. Her mind tends to drift and she gets lost on subjects; little snippets from the rest of my family sort of fill in the blanks. I’ll add more if I can get anything else out of her.

Grandma was born in Hong Kong, but she fled to Chiu Chow during the Japanese invasion by climbing a mountain with her only son slung on her back. For some reason, she feels a lot of pride about Chiu Chow even though she wasn’t born in that city, and always points out people from there1. As a result, she can speak both Cantonese and the Chiu Chow dialect.

Continue reading “Grandma’s Story”…

  1. She says she recognizes them by their faces. []

Comfort In Each Other

I’ve been getting to know one of my aunts.

Aside from annual holiday parties where the families would gather, we never spoke. But then again, I never spoke with any of the “grown-ups”1, as they offered little of interest to someone my age.

We’ve become sounding boards for each other. She tells me about how she’s approaching my grandmother’s treatments — the types of therapy, the medications, decisions on when to go to see the doctor — and I tell her about my relationships with my mom and dad.

I find it quite amazing that she’s so aware of the influence of Chinese culture in her life. She seems to be adapting to the generation gap and culture differences, or perhaps keeping them in mind, when it comes to treating her own Canadian-born daughter, which is far beyond what my parents were capable of. Until I really started talking with her, I believed that all Chinese parents were the same; too blind or too stubborn to understand how to raise first-generation Canadian children.

It amazes me how strong she is. She’s the one who makes sure my grandmother eats, drinks, takes her pills, sleeps, and walks. The one who cleans up after grandma when she has to go, but can’t make it to the bathroom in time. She dropped everything — her husband, her daughter, her real estate practice — to be here indefinitely, and has taken charge of all my grandmother’s care.

I tried to tell her that I admired her for everything she’s doing, but she wouldn’t let me continue. She’s having a hard time keeping it together, and is afraid that grandma may see her crying and realize how serious her sickness is. I wish I could give her some relief, a hug even, or just 15 minutes to let it all out. I guess there will be plenty of time for that soon enough.

For now, we have each other.

  1. The parties were a chance for adults to sing and talk, so the kids did their own thing. []