When cross-cultural relationships are about hate, not love

My good friend Jocelyn Eikenburg over at Speaking of China has put up a blog post that’s got my mind whirling.

In “Justifying Cross-Cultural Love By Hating On Others?”, Jocelyn highlights comments by Chinese and Western men that denigrate women of their own races in order to justify the cross-cultural relationship choices they’ve made. For example, the Chinese man says Chinese women are vain, demanding, don’t care about love and family on a spiritual level; the Western man says Western women are unpleasant, demanding, not serious about love and marriage. When read together, there’s something almost comic about their comments, about how over-generalized they are. People see in others the characteristics they want to see.

Unfortunately, it’s not just a certain subset of men in cross-cultural relationships that think this way, as I painfully learned. Back when I was an interracial relationship blogger, I got a fair amount of hate mail that was based on the assumption that I hated men of my own race. I didn’t get it. My father is Chinese. My brother is Chinese. My cousins are Chinese, my best friend in Shanghai is a Chinese guy. So why in the world would I hate Chinese men? I reread my blog posts, obsessively correcting anything — any adjective, any joke — that might cause this assumption, until I realized that these readers were reacting more to a set idea of me (“evil Asian woman with white man”) than who I really am. Because once I started venturing into the Internet, I realized there is a subset of Asian women who denigrate men of their own races in order to justify their interracial dating choices. And sometimes, because of how provoking and vehement they are, these sorts of voices are all we hear.

I tried to present a different voice, but in the end I stopped blogging about cross-cultural relationships because I needed to distance myself from that hate. It seemed like I couldn’t talk to people about these relationships without someone saying “Yeah, [insert race] men/women are so much better than [insert race] men/women.” I started shutting off when I heard that, refusing to continue the conversation. It’s hard to change those minds, and that mindset only harms the acceptance of cross-cultural love — instead of promoting the idea that love is colorblind, comments like that show the speaker’s love is color-specific, and so is their hate.

To those who treasure your cross-cultural relationships, yet so easily snipe at the people you come from — think of your children. They will be half of you. A Chinese woman may very well have a half-Chinese son, a white man a half-white daughter, a Chinese man a half-Chinese daughter, a white woman a half-white son. You will be present in your child, in their blood, in their appearances. Are you going to teach your children to hate an intrinsic part of themselves? To grow up angry and conflicted because their parents hate what they have passed on? Is that the legacy of your cross-cultural relationship?

I know I’m emotional today. I know I’m reacting so strongly to Jocelyn’s post because it ended with a comment about the children of cross-cultural relationships. I still mourn the child I might have had, the half-Chinese, half-Jewish Dragon Baby who would have been one year old tomorrow. I still think about how we would have raised her, about how we would have worked together to bring both cultures into his life. And I wonder, I really wonder, about how anyone would want to bring their child into an environment full of little insults and disdain.

Anyway. Do read Jocelyn’s post, and the comments that follow. Like she says, here’s to a gentler world.

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What happens when your dad suggests you marry a ghost? (A review of Yangsze Choo’s THE GHOST BRIDE)

Hi everyone. Before I start the book review, I’d like to bring you all to hell.

The Chinese Ten Courts of Hell, that is.

Ten Courts of Hell
This particular hell is located at Haw Par Villa, Singapore. I first entered its dark depths in August 2006, and remember recoiling in horror when I saw this:

Filthy Blood Pond

(Even bloodier scenes can be found here.)

So what are the Ten Courts of Hell? According to Chinese mythology, souls must enter these courts to be judged for the sins they committed in the land of the living. Each court deals with different sins and punishments, and it’s only after an offending soul suffers for its crimes — examples of punishments include being thrown on spikes, boiled in oil, or sawed in half — that it can be reincarnated or sent to paradise.

That first visit to the Ten Courts of Hell truly sparked my interest in anything and everything related to the Chinese afterlife. I started paying more attention to Qingming (the Tomb Sweeping Festival) and the idea of hungry ghosts, and was especially fascinated by the concept of ghost marriages after my aunty told me this sad and spooky story: back in the sixties, her classmate’s fiancé died in a car crash. Unable to accept his demise, the girl married her deceased lover after his funeral. I obsessed over that story for days, wondering how it was possible and whether my aunty’s classmate would be able to divorce her “husband” if she fell in love again.

So, with my interest in all things spooky, you can imagine my excitement when I heard about THE GHOST BRIDE by Malaysian debut author Yangsze Choo (HarperCollins, August 2013). Set in Malacca, Malaya (what is now Melaka, Malaysia) in 1893 during British rule, the novel is about a young Straits Chinese girl named Li Lan who has lost her mother to mysterious circumstances and her father to his opium addiction. One day, her father asks if she would consider marrying Lim Tian Ching, the son of a wealthy family. There’s only one little problem — he’s as dead as my aunty’s classmate’s ghost husband.

Li Lan is understandably horrified at the thought of tying herself to a dead man she barely knew, especially someone as repugnant as Lim Tian Ching. As he forces himself into her dreams, Li Lan is pulled deeper into the mystery of why this dead boy wants her and only her as his wife. To complicate things, she feels a growing attraction to the dead boy’s very-much-alive cousin, who is now the wealthy family’s heir. And if being haunted by one ghost isn’t bad enough, she soon finds herself trapped in their world. Time is running out as she desperately tries to uncover dark secrets and fight her way back to the land of the living.

As a Malaysian, it felt like Choo was writing a personal story just for me. The sprinkling of Malay vocabulary felt like delicious candy in my mouth — I read them aloud — and though set more than a hundred years ago, I could picture it all in my head — the old Melaka streets, the Stadthuys in the town square (which I visited last September), the splendor of a grand Peranakan mansion. But Choo doesn’t leave Western readers in the dark — she gently explains things for those unfamiliar with this part of the world, and when the narrative moves to a location that is alien to everyone — the Plains of the Dead — Choo’s evocative descriptions still pulled me in and sent shivers down my back. I kept thinking of the Ten Courts of Hell pictured above. Though no part of the novel actually takes place in these courts, they are often alluded to by the lingering ghosts we encounter along the way, always with a sense of fear.

As much as I loved the Malacca setting and the spooky world Choo built, characters are what make me fall in love with a book, and here Choo succeeds as well. I grew attached to Li Lan, a young girl still finding her way in life, and loved the people rallying around her such as her spunky Amah, and Old Wong with his special vision. I appreciated that there wasn’t really a clear divide between good and evil, because two of the “villains” were ultimately flawed characters I felt sorry for.

For people who are usually too cheap to buy books, I’d say that THE GHOST BRIDE is good value for money — you get historical fiction, young adult fiction, fantasy, suspense, paranormal and multicultural fiction all in one! And, once again from a Malaysian point of view, I am so glad there is a voice like Yangsze Choo’s out there, proving that writers of Malaysian descent can make it in the Western publishing world with genre-bending narratives.

I finished THE GHOST BRIDE three days ago, and Li Lan, Tian Bai, Er Lang, Auntie Three, etc. are still alive in my head, begging for another story. Can you hear them, Ms. Choo? Must write a sequel, okay? Terima kasih! 

Reading The Ghost Bride

*** Christine is now off to be a good girl to avoid punishment in the Ten Courts of Hell (gulp).

 

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Asian here, Asian there, Asian where? A Malaysian’s Racial Journey

Dear Friends,

Lately I’ve been feeling a great disconnect from many of the Asian race debates I read online. Then I realized that — duh! — since English is my best language and I mainly surf the English-language web, many of the discussions about Asian identity I come across are from a Western, mostly American point of view, while I’m Malaysian.

When a San Francisco Bay Area TV station made the excruciatingly stupid mistake of identifying the recent Asiana crash pilots with racist monikers, many of my Asian American and U.S.-based Asian friends used the case to voice their anger over white insensitivity, recollect injustices suffered at the hands of white folks, and discuss ever-enduring white privilege.

At first I thought about chiming in. I went to one of these discussions, scrolled to the bottom, typed “I think that”… and stopped. Because I had nothing to say. It hit me then, the feeling that this wasn’t my conversation. It wasn’t my fight. It just wasn’t my place. I’ve never lived in America. I dealt with a different sort of racial issue growing up. I thought the TV station’s mistake was a horrible, fireable offense, but I was missing a certain level of personal rage.

Asian American issues seem to dominate the Asian discourses available to English-language readers. I regret past attempts at writing in an Asian American voice, thinking it would expand my audience, which instead resulted in some cultural dissonance. There are so many Asian experiences, in so many different worlds. Some resonate more for one group than others. As I settle into marriage, wonder when to have children, and contemplate the possibility of moving back to Malaysia, I’ve been thinking more and more of my own childhood and the racial challenges particular to my country.

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Getting pregnant with hard-boiled eggs

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Something tickles my leg as I come to in the semi-darkness of my bedroom. “Mmm,” I murmur, my eyes half-closed. I feel the weight of a body shifting beside me, then something grazing my foot. “Mmm,” I murmur again. It feels nice. My husband is a very early riser, usually out in the living room tapping away on his laptop by the time I wake up… how nice of him to stay in bed today and play. My heart racing with excitement, I reach for his body, caressing his leg with my foot…

“Honey,” I whisper.

“Qilai le?” says a female voice with a chuckle.

What the — !!! I reach over and crack open the blackout curtains, and there is my ayi sitting in bed beside me, laundry piled up in front of her.

“Ayi,” I gasp. “You came so early today?”

“I had time this morning,” she says, tucking a tendril of graying hair behind her ear. “Sorry for waking you up!”

I met Ayi a few months after A.J. and I started dating. He’d held off the introduction until our relationship felt more solid; I found it strangely endearing that he spoke of the part-time housekeeper like she was his Chinese mother. “Now, she may be nervous at first,” he prepped me before that first meeting. “She might not know what to make of you.” I remember how startled she was when she saw me, her eyes darting nervously between me and A.J. as if we were playing a practical joke. “Ni shi ta de nü pengyou ma?” she asked. Yes, I’m his girlfriend, I confirmed, and just like that, she broke out into a joyous smile. “Good!” she exclaimed. “You are very pretty, and tall! Taller than him even, so funny! If only you could switch heights. But it’s okay, he’s short but very cute, isn’t he? Where are you from? Are you Chinese? You look like a nice girl.” She stepped forward, patted my arm, and announced, “I am happy for you both.” With that quick and garrulous acceptance, she took me under her protective wing, insisting on washing my clothes and cleaning my plates even before I officially moved in.

And now, over a year since A.J. and I got married, I think she wants to do more.

“I brought more eggs,” she says as she folds a pair of shorts. “Six eggs already boiled. They’re in the fridge. You must remember to eat them, okay?”

“Hao de,” I say to appease her, and stifle a groan.

Six eggs? Add those to the ones she brought three days ago, and I have fourteen hard-boiled eggs sitting in the fridge, waiting to be devoured. Too many. How long before they go bad? A.J. doesn’t eat eggs; he has a family history of high cholesterol, he says. And in three days I’m sure Ayi will bring more. We’re Chinese, I can’t just tell her Please stop! She only has good intentions, I know… she’s trying to get me pregnant.

“You and A.J. are such a good couple,” she’s been repeating since our first anniversary. “You’ll be such good parents.” Two weeks ago, she brought up her desire to be our child’s nanny. “You can both work on your writing, and I’ll take care of your baby,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about having no time. I really want to help you.” I thanked her for loving us so much, then, to her horror, told her we were waiting to have children. “Aiya,” she said. “Don’t wait.”

And now the egg delivery has begun.

The first time Ayi brought me eggs was after my miscarriage. I remember lying listlessly in bed, unable and unwilling to move, to get up, to look to the future. She came over with a bag of them that first week, dozens and dozens of eggs that she piled into the overflowing egg pocket in my fridge. “Good for your body,” she said, her eyes heavy with concern. “They will help you heal.” That’s when I learnt that eggs symbolize fertility in Chinese culture, and nourishing me with yolk was sort of like praying to a fertility goddess on my behalf.

I ate her eggs then, back when I was grieving and wanting to get pregnant as soon as the waiting/healing period was over. Now, though, I can hardly bring myself to touch them. Because we never did try to get pregnant again. Sometimes — mostly while looking at other people’s baby photos — I’m ready to leap to my feet and say, “Let’s do it!” But then fear, irrational or not, creeps in and says, “Let’s wait.” And I don’t think Ayi will understand that. That I need something more than hard-boiled eggs to make me brave enough to venture into motherhood again.

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Understanding the “unrelenting vilification” of Ping Fu

Ping Fu MemoirYes, another Ping Fu post. Bear with me.

Since I wrote the last one, South China Morning Post published a piece called ‘Heartbroken’ author Ping Fu willing to apologise for inaccuracies in memoir. To summarize it, her alma mater and even some former schoolmates are threatening to sue her for libel. Fu acknowledges and admits to some errors in her book (which, as the article points out, she has also done previously), and cites confusion and people remembering things differently as the culprit.

The SCMP article doesn’t seem to have done much to calm the anti-Ping storm. “A fake apology,” say her detractors. For them, it’s not enough. What would be enough, perhaps, is a statement from Fu saying: “I made many things up. I’m sorry.” Until then, their quest continues, with a fervor that angers the pro-Ping camp and, I have to admit, even alarms those who are/were more on-the-fence about the issue, like myself.

Whether Fu lied or not, I do not know and am not going to explore. I have read almost all the accusations against her — some making a lot of sense, others not so much — and many of the comments defending her — again, some making a lot of sense, others not so much. What interests me now is how many who are more pro-Ping have become that way because, to quote Joe Nocera’s New York Times column, “it is a little hard to understand why Ping Fu’s memoir, ‘Bend, Not Break,’ has aroused such fury in some quarters of the Chinese immigrant community.” Nocera also calls this fury “extreme, unrelenting vilification,” and tries to make sense of the anti-Ping zeal by calling the detractors “vigilantes” who want to squash discussion of the Cultural Revolution.

I agree that the sheer force of the anti-Ping anger is hard for outsiders to understand. I’m trying to. I think I know the answer — and it has nothing to do with wanting to cover up the Cultural Revolution.

First, let me state who I am: I am a third or fourth generation Malaysian of Chinese descent, depending on which grandparent you count from. My ancestors left China before 1949, and certainly before the Cultural Revolution. Though I’m fascinated by modern Chinese history, it’s not my family’s history, and I have no personal investment, really, in Ping Fu’s stories.

But what if I did? What if… my great-grandpa or grandma had returned to China, and they, and my parents or aunts and uncles were beaten by Red Guards because of foreign connections, humiliated in public, their education disrupted, their lives in disarray? What if they survived all that, and scrimped and saved to send me to school in America, and suddenly I’m there and hearing about a woman who seemed to have suffered like my family had and is now rich and famous due to her hard work — wow, good for her, I want to be like her — but then I find out there are all sorts of inconsistencies in her story and that she might have been a Red Guard, like the ones who beat my Ah Mah and Pa and Ma? She might have lied about being a ‘black’ when she was actually a ‘red,’ and now she’s rich and famous in America and people are going “poor her” when… wow, she might even have lied on her greed card application? WTF?!

I might become an angry netizen too.

My point here is, I think the anti-Ping fervor is about privilege. Frustration over privilege should be something we all understand. Racial privilege, class privilege, economic privilege — these are all hot topics. Privilege makes people angry. For the most part, I doubt many Chinese have a problem with privilege that is deserved. But throw in corruption and deception and that’s where things get heated. At the heart of the Ping Fu outcry is the hatred of privilege that is procured through ill means.

The last time I ever read about such widespread anger among Chinese netizens was the Zhu Ling poisoning case. Zhu Ling was a very bright student with a promising future when she was mysteriously poisoned with thallium in 1995. Today, her body is disabled, her mind deformed. She is less than a shadow of her former self. The main suspect was questioned by the police but let go, and is now living in the US and, according to different sources, living a very good life indeed. There were allegations that the suspect was highly privileged, with political connections who helped her leave China, leaving an unsolved mystery — and a poor, ruined girl — behind.

Chinese netizens jumped on this with a fury that threw me. They did to the suspect in the Zhu Ling case what they’re doing to Ping Fu now — they set up websites and forums, dug up very personal information, petitioned the White House to do something, anything. Supporters of the suspect said the same thing Fu’s supporters are saying now — this is a horrible personal attack that is crossing the line; this is the work of a mob. In Zhu Ling’s case though, there is no Cultural Revolution involved, no painful shared history for Chinese netizens to unite over or Westerners to point at. No, the root of the anger was privilege through ill means, and it sickened many Chinese to think about how, in an unjust society, privilege means getting away with anything, including murder.

Ping Fu isn’t accused of murdering anyone. She is accused of living a privileged life in a period that was hell for most, then playing the victim in the West; of being privileged enough to publish a book, but producing one with so many contradictions while many voices go unheard. Some of the things the anti-Ping voices are saying are over-the-top (such as asking her to show her scar in order to prove that she was raped), but I think it’s perfectly reasonable for them to ask whether she was a Red Guard/Communist Youth League member, and what privileges were attached to that. She says she wasn’t. Her Chinese university says she was, and they have a record to prove it. While such “I-say-you-say” contradictions exist, the furor isn’t going away.

I found this comment (posted to a Bloomberg column about Joe Nocera’s defense of Ping Fu) to be one of the calmer, more poignant voices that points to privilege as the reason for the anger:

I am one of those on Amazon who have been attempted to tell the world about the truthfulness of her book. However, at this point, I am willing to focus on one issue: her membership with the Communist Youth League. I am sorry for getting a little bit more personal. My family suffered a great deal during the Cultural Revolution. If Ping Fu became a member of that communist organization in 1973, that means she was from a politically privileged family during the Cultural Revolution.

I am aware that the information about her membership of the Communist Youth League was from a communist university. That is why I am willing to wait for her to show some evidence that Suzhou U manufactured that piece of record.

I am waiting!

And many are waiting too. For many Fu sympathizers, undeserved privilege — especially suspected undeserved privilege — will never, ever justify “unrelenting vilification.” I honestly don’t know if it does. I’m just trying to understand why it’s happening.

(Just so you know, I’m planning on buying her book, knowingly paying money for a piece of work that many claim is false. I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it, and will find the entrepreneurial side of Ms. Fu very impressive. I divide the books on my shelf into fiction and non-fiction, and I’ll be sliding Bend, Not Break right in the middle when I’m done.)

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Why is Ping Fu the only “victim”?

I’ve been writing a memoir. For over a year, I’ve been hunched over my laptop, scrutinizing each paragraph, each line, each word that leaps from my head. A memoir is non-fiction, as close to the truth as you can get, and every day, I battle with memory, trying to get everything just right. At times my mind fails me, and when it does I throw a little tantrum and start sifting through the remnants of my past for anything — a photo, a letter — that will nudge those dusty shards of memory and make them whole. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I have the nagging sense that something, some minor detail — a date, a color, a snippet of dialogue — is not quite right. Memory is faulty, after all, and all I and any memoirist can do is try our best to work through the jumbles of our lives and produce a narrative that makes sense.

Which is why, when news first started popping up about the errors in Chinese-American entrepreneur Ping Fu’s memoir Bend, Not Break, my heart went out to her. I hadn’t read her book but it was on my to-read list — I’ve been a voracious reader of Cultural Revolution memoirs since I was a tween, and find personal accounts of those Maoist years painful, horrific, yet rewarding to read. What are these people so angry about? I wondered. Ping Fu has lived a long, hard life. Of course she didn’t get every little thing right. But the more links I followed, the more I realized she wasn’t being accused of things like mixed up sequences or composite characters or whether it was rainy or sunny that day. I’m not going into detail (you can read it here) but Chinese readers were accusing Fu of twisting and fabricating major events, including moments during the Cultural Revolution and a kidnapping in the US. The Guardian looked into it, and Fu conceded to some errors, including one bloody event that was likely an “emotional memory,” not fact.

To me, her admission did cast doubt on the veracity of her book as a whole, but I wasn’t too invested or interested in the issue — I figured there’d be a new disclaimer in her book, end of story. 

But four months later, the controversy lives on.

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I’m in Love with CRAZY RICH ASIANS

(I read Crazy Rich Asians back in April, but it’s still on my mind! I think that makes it worthy of the first Shanghai Shiok! book review!)

crazy rich asians hardcover

I am Asian, I lived in Singapore, and I am not crazy rich – but I certainly heard of enough people on that tiny island who are. About nine, ten years ago, I was addicted to a blog (now defunct) called pinkshoefetish where one Daphne Teo of Singapore documented every single materialistic extravaganza in her life – endless Tod’s bags, Chanel, the luxurious apartment she (or her parents) rented when she was at Purdue (no stinky student dorms for her), her endless jet-setting with her hot boyfriend and the expensive hotels and restaurants in New York, London, Paris, wherever. At that time, I wasn’t even sure I could afford to go to college, so Daphne’s blog was pure escapism (and sometimes a source of resentment). I don’t remember what her parents did to afford that lifestyle, but anyway, my point is – the crazy rich Asians of East and Southeast Asia do exist, and man do they live large. When I saw that a Singaporean named Kevin Kwan had written a novel about them, and that it was in the hands of a major NYC publishing house, I couldn’t wait to read it, to see what had caught the attention of these editors, so much that they were willing to take on a book about Asians, set in Singapore.

I got an ARC of the book from eBay and devoured it in two days. (I promise to buy an actual hardcover copy soon to contribute to Kevin Kwan‘s sales.) And, perhaps I am biased because of who I am and my (slight) exposure to that world, but I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. It satirizes the crazy rich Asian universe, but even with the exaggerations, my college friend, who is part of the Hong Kong version of the Wealthy Asian Club, would recognize so many aspects depicted in the novel – the lightning speed at which gossip travels, the focus on bloodlines and marriage, the clash between old money and new, and – most important I think – the ridiculous, long-standing tension between mainland Chinese and overseas Chinese, a phenomenon that is very real, very common, very much discussed in Asia, but pretty much unheard of in the West. In the book, Singaporean Chinese “blue blood” Nick takes his American Chinese girlfriend Rachel home for the summer, blissfully unaware of his family’s concerns that she might be a gold-digger. Their suspicions are heightened by the fact that Rachel was – to their horror – born in mainland China, to a single mother (more strikes against her!). I laughed when I read that, because I was – like it or not – brought up in Asia where those prejudices are part and parcel of everyday life, but an American reader might find it offensive and racist – which it is, but in a “Chinese” sort of way that is not so much about hatred, but insecurities. The book shows how those prejudices are challenged as mainland Chinese grow richer and more worldly and influential, and the author sympathetically portrays both sides.

As for the actual storyline – it’s a roller coaster ride that might be hard to keep up with at the beginning because of how many characters are introduced (and I always had my finger on the family tree Kwan provides in the book). I found it ridiculous that Nick and Rachel could have dated for years without her finding out about his background, but this is chick lit and so I willingly suspended disbelief and just let myself get carried along into the world of chili crab and nasi lemak. Kwan’s writing is clear and breezy and skips along very well, and in the end I was left feeling like Rachel must have when she was plunked into this whirlwind world – amazed, dizzyfied, enlightened.

And it makes me want to go back to Singapore. (And I will, when the haze has cleared.)

A great summer read! And I must say it’s really nice to have a big-release book set in Asia that is fun and lighthearted and not culturally angsty or painful or epic. Sometimes, you can only read so many stories that are linked to the Cultural Revolution / Japanese invasion / Vietnam war. It’s 2013, and sometimes you just want to read about Asians having fun.

(Oh – the gold and pink hardcover release is cute, but I love how the galley cover plays with the Hermès box design. Clever!)

crazy rich asians galley

(This review was originally posted in slightly different form on Goodreads.)

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Asian-Jewish Food Fusion: Malaysian Matzo Ball Chicken Curry

“Here, Ma,” I said, passing my mother the box of matzo ball mix. “From A.J.’s family in Minnesota.”

She stared at it. “Matzo ball?” she said, though it sounded like “moth ball” in her Malaysian accent.

“Yeah. Really tasty and easy to make. Eat with chicken soup.”

“Chicken soup?” she repeated, making a face. “So boring lah. Can put in curry ah?”

And that’s how we got delicious matzo ball chicken curry.

***

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P.S. I would love to include a proper recipe… but we cook everything through “agak-agak,” guesstimating. We followed the simple instructions on the matzo ball mix box, simmered the fresh curry paste for… ten minutes or so on medium heat before adding the 450g of fresh chicken and 2 sliced potatoes and simmered for… another twenty minutes? before adding a box of santan, coconut milk. Anyway, if you already know how to make or procure some curry, you’re good!

 

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When You Lose a Lucky Dragon Baby

I’m eating tangyuan with my husband as fireworks explode above and around us to mark the last day of 2013′s Chinese New Year celebrations. I roll the deceptively tasteless glutinous ball in my mouth before biting into it, relishing the delicious, hot sesame paste that burns my tongue but fills me with a childlike joy. This is it, I think as we stroll home afterwards. The new year has truly, fully begun.

***

Last Chinese New Year wasn’t so blissfully uneventful. The Year of the Dragon, the Chinese zodiac’s most powerful, dramatic, unpredictable sign, surprised me with an unexpected pregnancy and an even more unexpected loss. I remember the bewilderment when we found out we were pregnant, the troubled first month when my then-fiancé and I went back and forth, reeling from shock, jumping from option to option. In the end the choice was simple, and though not fully accurate, the way I explained my decision to friends was: “How can I not keep it? It’s my dragon baby – my lucky accident, my blessing.” I tapped on my stomach nearly every morning, imagining that I was communicating with my daughter through an infant Morse code. Tap tap, how are you this morning, kiddo? Tap tap, thanks for not making mommy throw up. I was probably one of a small handful of expectant Dragon Mamas who hadn’t set out to have a lucky baby, but nonetheless I felt proud and auspicious.

That feeling didn’t last long.

To miscarry at any time is difficult. There’s something about being a Chinese woman miscarrying in the dragon year, however, that seems especially cruel. With baby fever so extreme, you are constantly reminded of dragon children. Like at the neighborhood hospital where I had my final ultrasound, the waiting room so packed with pregnant women that I waited three hours to confirm my empty uterus. All the “dragon baby sales” at the mall, proud fathers-to-be grabbing up clothes and cribs and strollers for their unborn dragon spawn. So many websites and newspapers and magazines reminding couples to conceive by May 15th to ensure their baby would be born before February 10, 2013, the start of the Year of the Snake – because who wants a snake if they can have a lucky little dragon? Lucky, dragon babies are lucky – I heard this so often that I became superstitious, suspecting my miscarriage meant I was cursed. If dragon children are bringers of good fortune, surely the loss of mine was a bad omen, all my good luck wrenched away.

***

Maybe it’s because dragon year is over, or perhaps it’s just because time has healed most wounds, but my tenseness has faded. Holding my friend’s year-old dragon baby the other day, I felt love and tenderness with no trace of the bitterness that’s clung to me for far too long.

“We can really move forward now,” I say to my husband as we’re getting ready for bed.

He smiles and pulls me to him. “But dragon year wasn’t so bad, was it?” he asks. “We did get married, you know.”

I think back to our April wedding. Did you see us, Dragon Baby? Kissing and hugging, laughing and smiling, proudly holding up the certificate stating we were “joined in lawful wedlock in Limo, Las Vegas”? Did you see the shadow beneath our joy, hear our fleeting thoughts of how, minus a few letters, ‘miscarriage’ becomes ‘marriage’? Do you see the rose petals we’ve saved from my bouquet and his boutonniere? Twelve petals, for each week you were with us.

I look at my husband now, the man who has weathered everything with me. “No,” I agree. “Dragon year wasn’t so bad.” I snuggle against him and close my eyes, saying goodnight, goodbye to whoever she would have become, and planning for tomorrow as fireworks continue celebrating the new year right outside our window.

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Photos from a Day in Taipei: A Monument, a Climb, and a Japanese AV Actress

Here’s one of the few things I remember from my days studying English Lit — analyzing texts where marriage “shuts the woman up,” symbolizing her transformation from spunky spitfire to submissive sap. My favorite example: Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. She finally ends up with Benedick, he kisses her, then she’s silent for the rest of the play.

“You’ve been Beatriced,” said a friend.

I thought about it. Yes, I have been silent for a while, and the last post was about my wedding. But I have been very noisy elsewhere — like in my husband’s face! We’re still in the honeymoon stage, will be until our wedding reception next month with family and friends. After that it’s supposed to go to hell, right? :)

***

We’re in Taiwan at the moment, a business trip for him, and another “mini honeymoon” for us. I had a free day today, and instead of tying myself to a plan, I got on the subway ready to just get off at wherever sounded interesting.

I ended up at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall around 9:20 A.M. I came, I saw, I left. It’s a Very Impressive Structure and a Very Significant Monument but I missed the changing of the guards and didn’t see any point staying there to stare up at the bronze statue of the Generalissimo.

Back to the MRT I went. Where to go, where to go? I looked up at the bright clear sky, and thought about going high. So I headed to Taipei 101 for its observation deck… but when I finally reached the base and stared up at the city’s famous landmark, I felt… MEH. I didn’t know Taipei. The only building I would recognize was the Taipei 101. Wouldn’t I rather have a bird’s eye view of Taipei with the tower in it?

Thus my trek up Elephant Mountain. From the base of Taipei 101 on Xinyi Road, I walked east a block and turned right on Songren Road. After that, I followed the signs for about 800m. Easy peasy — until I started climbing. If you are as fit as I am, which is not at all, it’ll take you about 30 minutes to reach the lookout spot. Elderly folks — women with bent backs and pure white hair, men with big bellies and skinny legs, one with a cane — kept passing me as I huffed and puffed my way up, aching and dehydrated.

But the view was worth it. At 11 A.M. I had the lookout point all to myself.

Extremely proud that I had gotten a week’s worth of exercise, I made my way down and hopped on a bus back to the MRT. I dozed off on the subway and awoke when it stopped at Ximen. Why not get off here? (Actually, “Ximen — hee hee, sounds like semen!” was what I thought. A married woman, and yet so juvenile.)

But in the Ximending Pedestrian Area (a “hip” and “fashionable” area crawling with people at least five years younger than me), I happened upon a woman playing with a condom, so maybe my juvenility was just sixth sense.

I know you’re reading this post for the Japanese AV actress, so this is it: here is Terunuma Fareeza, and she was there today, boys and girls, to teach you about safe sex. On behalf of the Taiwan AIDS Foundation, she demonstrated how to use a condom:

Next was “game” time, which meant pulling a guy and girl from the audience and asking them to sniff at flavored condoms and guess the flavors.

This guy guessed the wrong flavor… so she fed it to him (the fruit — banana — not the condom).
“Here you go miss… smell the condom.”

She was there for a pretty long time, posing for photos, having a Q&A, and handing out free condoms. Apparently Terunuma Fareeka is also a “self-objectifying artist” who is having exhibitions of her NSFW pictures in Taipei and Tainan this month and next, so this gig with the AIDS Foundation doubled as promotion for her event. So first have safe sex, then go see her pictures.

An older guy behind me shouted “Sola Aoi?!?” when he saw Terunuma, then looked crushed when he realized it wasn’t her.

“Come see my exhibition!”

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