Things That Reassure You of Your Chinese Americanness

Part in the First

I think I’ve done it all–gone through a hyper-political Angry Young Woman phase (coinciding with residence in more-politically-correct-than-thou Berkeley, both town and gown versions). Been confused and oblivious as a kid; flattered (!) when friends said, “I don’t think of you as oriental, I think of you as white.” Felt wearily post-racial as Yet Another Racist Depiction of Us Yellows rears its ugly head and I have only so much raging against the machine left in me. (Actually, it’s the weird fetishization of mass media images as the overdetermining source of identity and stereotype that makes me tired…is there somewhere we live which is not wholly within our tiny spheres or the vast soup of media? Academia, could you move on to some more nuanced critique, maybe?)

So, Things That Reassure You of Your Chinese Americanness Despite Feeling Most Days Like Any Other Tired Mama-Writer-Filmmaker Trying to Make Her Mark

  • understand just enough Mandarin Chinese to know that the fast-talking person on the other end of the line calling during dinner is trying to sell you a phone card, long-distance telephone service (to China), or a new mortgage.
  • lack just enough verbal Mandarin Chinese ability to scowl at the caller: “I’m on the no-call list and that means ALL telemarketers, xiao jie.” So I hang up–it speaks volumes in any language.
  • no shoes inside the house. Cuz shoes, they step in all kinds of crap. Sometimes literally.
  • I will wash and re-use ziplock sandwich bags.
  • I will spend three hours or more searching for the best deal online to maximize star rating/low price for a hotel.
  • I squeeze the produce and thump the watermelons. Pre-bagged produce is for suckers/gwai lo….unless it’s mesclun mix.
  • I avoid chinese restaurants where there are an abundance of white patrons/scarcity of chinese patrons, yet I slavishly follow Jonathan Gold’s recommendations. When my LA-livin’ cousin from Singapore doesn’t have any recommendations, that is.
  • instead of saving up every plastic bag and marginally re-useable business sized envelope (bonus if the stamp’s not cancelled!) in a version of Immigrant Gen OCD v1.0, I do ABC Gen OCD v2.0, also known as “eco-friendly”: World’s Largest Collection of Brown Paper Grocery Bags, plus Old T-shirts Saved to Wash the Car. I think there’s even a pair of my toddler son’s old clean cotton training undies saved to buff the car as well. The ball made out of rubber bands is where v1.0 and v2.0 overlap.
  • I diapered my son old school, in cloth diapers, and potty learned him old school too, using Elimination Communication. He even wore split pants. Cuz sitting in a dirty plasticky diaper is gross. As are diapers piled in a landfill. And the business about “children under the age of 4 are physiologically not able to control muscles relating to elimination” flies in the face of what 4/5 of the world does and knows about potty training.
  • the thought of my elderly parents living with me when they’re too infirm to live alone both comforts me and scares the bejesus out of me. The solution: a giant Brad Pitt-like compound of craftsman bungalows, where we can check up on each other but stay out of each others’ hair. (Exquisitely refurbished craftsman bungalows optional. Brad Pitt not optional…how else to tolerate the parents? I’m gonna need at least two husbands.)
  • if I could, I’d wear as close to 24k gold jewelry as possible.
  • I’m always waiting for the other unlucky shoe to drop, because my life has been pretty wonderful so far. (Just writing this is heresy! Inviting some kind of divine crosshairs to fix on my forehead! Forestall any bad shit raining down on you by insisting that your life is insignificant, meaningless, unworthy, ordinary at best.)
  • why visit the doctor when the news is gonna be expensive and bad? (Trying to change this one.)
  • minor home surgeries: plantar wart removal. Lancing of blisters. The wearing of go pi gao yao (stinky dog skin medicinal sticking plasters?) for assorted non-specific ailments, like a sore knee, and the removal of which doubles as a depilatory, removing all leg hairs from afflicted area. (This was waaaaaaaay before Traditional Chinese Medicine became cool enough for Woody Allen to make a really stupid movie about it. Gwai lo, do you think we exist to care about your inner life? Your emotional well-being? Think again Mia Farrow.) Save the ER for bigger complaints.
  • living through the Unreliable Narrator: would it be so bad if he became a millionaire pro poker player like Annie Duke and skipped that expensive Ivy league college altogether?
  • wanting the UN to have just enough Chinese culture so he knows who he is and what he’s all about, but not so much he believes the Confucian bullshit hype that Chinese men are gods. As HB likes to cite from UNFORGIVEN: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Indeed; we live by RuPaul’s creed around here: “I have one thing to say: you better WORK.” Sashay, chantay!

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  1. Pingback: The Architecture of Multi-Generational Family Living « P i l l o w b o o k

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