I Sent My Parents to a Cult-Sponsored Chinese Extravaganza
For the first time ever in my life, I heard my father say the word ‘fuck’ aloud.
The two are not accidentally linked. For the holidays, we were sent a slick brochure mostly in Chinese that hyped an hours-long “Chinese New Year Spectacular” at the Kodak theatre (site of the Oscars awards here in Hollywood). Now this is why there’s a huge gulf between Asian/Chinese American and Chinese immigrant, or gringo American and Chinese immigrant, for that matter. It’s language and understanding.
Not being able to read the Chinese language description of the event, I simply saw nicely photographed images of folk dancers in bright, beautiful costumes dancing and leaping across a professionally-lit stage. They were acting out or singing about ancient Chinese legends as far as I could tell. I know my mom loves her some Chinese extravaganza, so I hurriedly bought them two orchestra seat tickets online using the discount on the slick brochure, then arranged with them to have them come up to where we live (not too far from the Hollywood and Highlands complex that houses the Kodak theatre). They would attend, have a nice night out, then spend the night at our house and return in a leisurely fashion home to the OC.
Well, all seemed to go well and they got to the theatre on time. I thought no more of it as I had a meeting to attend that night while they were out.
When I returned home around 9:40 pm they still hadn’t come back. I did a few errands and then to see how long the event was, I looked up the website for the Spectacular.
It was then I saw the article from the San Francisco Chronicle praising the production values of the show but also referring to the cult-like Falun Gong propaganda included in the show. I’d unwittingly sent my parents into the jaws of those creepy people who stand outside Chinese embassies all around the world, beating their gongs and holding up giant homemade placards plastered with photographs I’m too skittish to look at closely. These are people you instinctively veer away from on the sidewalk as they try to hand you a flyer. Who knows what their deal is. You spot them and the big reinforced steel security door of your mind slams down as your brain screeches “Weirdo alert! Weirdo alert! RUN AWAY!”
For a brief moment I wondered if I’d have to de-program my parents. Were they right now trying to escape? Was some loon trying to shake down their credit cards and bank accounts as I sat safely at home, not ten minutes away, thinking these thoughts? Should I check my cell phone on the off chance my parents 1) remembered to bring theirs, and 2) knew how to operate it to call for help? I hoped they hadn’t eaten anything the Falun Gongers may have sold at concessions–the opium-laced manju, the GHB-tainted sesame seed buns…green tea with knockout drops added.
Around 11 pm, my parents came in. I greeted them at the door.
“How was it? I’m sorry!” I said as soon as my mom and dad muttered noncommittal “Eh, well…the costumes were good” comments. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings by blurting out how offended they were by the whole thing and I already knew what was wrong with the evening.
About two seconds later they gave me their frank assessment:
“I was offended! I felt cheated!” my dad said.
“I liked the music and the songs, but it was so propagandistic!” said my mom.
“They passed out survey forms after the show–” my dad started.
“And daddy was so offended, he tore the paper up right in the girl’s face!” finished my mom. She was perhaps a tiny bit proud as she said this.
“You know, I don’t care if they say communism, anti-communism, but Falun Gong is a religion, a CULT,” explained my dad. “They tell everyone that if you’re sick, you don’t need to go to a doctor as long as you believe. ‘Have faith and you’ll be cured.’ I told that young woman I came to see a nice show about Chinese culture and I felt cheated! And you know how I feel about religion. Agggggghhh, fuck them!”
(My father’s what you might call an evangelical atheist. If he could stand on a street corner and tell people to cast aside their stupid myths and fables, he would…if he weren’t a fundamentally shy, introverted guy. Before tonight, I don’t think I’ve ever heard my 74-year old dad EVER drop the f-bomb. Evah.)
“It’s like Christian Science, only worse,” added my mom.
“I didn’t know they were behind the whole thing, I’m sorry!” I said. “I only found out about that afterwards. I just wanted you to have a nice time at a cultural show.”
“Well, it’s deceptive. They don’t mention Falun Gong that much in the brochure,” my mom said. “I told that young lady to keep politics and religion, especially religion, out of art. The singing was okay except for the Falun Gong references, and the dancing was very very nice. And our seats were perfect!” my mom said, trying to salvage the gift I’d tried to give them. Uh, Merry Xmas?
I tried to picture the 80% capacity audience. “So were you the only ones who voiced your displeasure?” I asked. Were the rest of the people around them pinwheel-eyed acolytes too, already converted to the cause?
“No, a couple behind us got up and left halfway through,” said my mom. “Daddy wanted to leave as soon as he sat down and saw Falun Gong everywhere.” Aha, must’ve been another clueless American-born Chinese adult child who sent their aging parents on a misadventure for the holidays.
(Apparently the gwei-lo around them ate it all up. I shudder to think of well-meaning non-Chinese who probably brought their adopted-in-China daughters so said daughters could experience some of “their culture” and were lapping up the equivalent of a “Indian Culture Night” thrown by the Hare Krishna. And shame on Governor Schwarzenegger, Mayor Villaraigosa, and all the rest who lent legitimacy-granting “good luck with your show!” letters that the organizers included in the show program.)
Well, it was just too cheesy and awful to believe. I was sorry I’d wasted good money inflicting such an awful time on my parents, who have never before sat so close to the stage. They very much enjoyed their orchestra seats–pity the show sucked donkey balls.
But watching them give the dangerous nonsense of Falun Gong a verbal smackdown, I felt strangely comforted. In recent years, I’ve watched them get slower. My mom claims my dad doesn’t pick up his feet when he walks any more; he just shuffles, according to her. My mom’s health has had its ups and downs. She had a terrible flare-up of sciatica and could barely move. Was often reduced to tears from the pain and had to rely on a cane. But recently they’ve lost a lot of weight and are exercising more often than I am and eating sensibly and well.
However old my parents were, they still have their wits about them and can smell a scam from a mile away. That, hearing my dad say a word I’d never heard him say before, and our shared dislike of organized religion, if nothing else, was well worth the price of the tickets.