Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dear 'A Thousand Years'

Dear A Thousand Years,

I first heard you on the radio a few weeks ago on my drive back home from ballet lesson.  In the darkness of the night, Christina Perri's voice was haunting, and a few verses of the refrain made me bookmark it in my head.  I did find the artist and the name of the song and have listened to it a few times since, but it was just today that I learned from the radio that this song is the theme song for the soundtrack of the movie, Breaking Dawn.  (That was a disclaimer, in case you hadn't noticed, so please don't ostracize me for writing about this song as it is completely unrelated to the movie).

But now that I know, how fitting it is that such a pop song about young love represents this particular movie.  The artist even confirmed that she wrote the song for the pair of lovers in it.  The lyrics in the refrain 'I have loved you for a thousand years, and I will love you for a thousand more' is practically the epitome of youthful love (we've all been there, felt that).  But before I knew about all this, these two phrases made me think of a conversation Dear Husband and I used to have often when our kiddos were still infants.

It is known that we love our spouses and children immensely, but also, differently.  When Dear Daughter and Dear Son were babies, DH and I had dissimilar origins of love for them.  Whenever DH would have a 'special moment' with his newly born child, he would look at me with such pride and tell me that his love for her/him "had just gone up a big notch."  I was truly happy for him, and grateful for the fact that he could share such emotions with me.  But interestingly, my feelings were different than his, and I also shared that with him.

As a mother, (whether it's because we carry a baby for nine months in our belly or just out of plain maternal instinct), I knew that I loved my babies from the moment I was aware of their being.  And that love was monumental from the beginning, as if it peaked as soon as it started.  It was not a day-to-day buildup or a gradual increase.  It was there at its utmost, constantly, and for eternity.  This is not to say that DH's feelings were wrong or invalid; the way his love came about for the babies were just different than mine.  Be it 'Mars vs. Venus' or just a different perspective, it was interesting enough that we had this discussion many times over for each of our two kids.  So, another way to describe the way I love my children is precisely so much, that I feel like I had already loved them 'for a thousand years' when they just came to being.

On the other hand, the love for a spouse -- the person to whom you have vowed your entire life; your best friend; your soul mate; your one-and-only -- is not the same.  This love, I believe, is one that takes time to build from the moment it begins.  If this love is so lucky to have a firm foundation, and the escalation progressed carefully at each step of the way, then the time it takes to walk this path can be infinite.  This sacred journey involves learning about, compromising with, living with, and being forgiving to, each other.  Since I met DH (eons ago), our relationship has held strong against the test of marriage, children, as well as life's obstacles.  Walking this path with him, I've long reached the point where I can declare to DH that 'I will love you for a thousand more'. 

And thus is how I can describe and juxtapose my love for my children and my DH.

So, now that I know, every time I hear the beginning of you, A Thousand Years, no doubt will I see the images of Bella and Edward in my head (because I had just seen your official music video interspersed with clips of the movie)...  But I shall quickly blink them away, and as I hear the words 'I have loved you for a thousand years, and I will love you for a thousand more', I will always be reminded of how I feel for the three most precious people life has offered me.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dear Greeting Cards

Dear Greeting Cards,

I look forward to your arrival in my mailbox in the next few weeks!  Now that the holiday season has officially started, our home will slowly turn itself into a jolly and festive one.  But before we haul home a tree and put out the stockings, one of the best reflections of our holiday season is already in place.

I love receiving holiday cards.  I guess that is why I am so diligent about sending ours.  I love reading updates of our faraway friends, and seeing the pictures of our family and friends and their children's gorgeous smiles.  And of course, I want to see these cards and photos throughout the holiday season and beyond. 

We tried many different places to display holiday cards.  The console table didn't work since the cards kept falling over anytime anyone walked by.  The mantle didn't work because it got overcrowded and we couldn't see all the cards at once.  Finally, last year, I decided to go back to our old way of showcasing holiday cards from our townhouse a few years back.

The idea is to use a string or ribbon onto which cards are clipped.  The ribbon can be simple or fancy, in your choice of color and width.  Just hammer a small nail in the wall at the point where you want the ribbon to start, tie a bow at the beginning of the ribbon, and hang it on the nail.  For clips, I like wooden clothe pins, as they give a sort of rustic and homemade feel.  We didn't have enough of those at the time, so DH took out his boxful of black binder clips, which worked just as well, and gives it a more modern and stylish look.  We clip the holiday cards on the ribbon on alternating sides so that they look balanced without the boredom of uniformity.

We have a structure that divides our kitchen/dining area and living/family room.  It has three sides that extends from floor to ceiling (the fourth side comes up waist high for a counter where we place photo frames and our iPod player).  I thought this was a perfect place for displaying our cards since we are not taking up large spaces of blank walls where the display might clash with other decor, and it is a central spot in our house on the first floor.  We made three ribbons to hang our holiday cards so that they can be viewed from many angles.

(One tiny word of caution is that if you have crawling babies, curious toddlers, nosy cats, or hungry dogs, you may not want the ribbon to go down to floor length!)

The great thing about this holiday card display is that we have kept it throughout the year, since after the holidays, the cards slowly get replaced by Valentine's day cards, birthday cards, thank-you cards, etc.  It has become a place where we highlight other holidays and milestones of the year.  The kids especially love to look at their birthday cards, which remind them that they are a year older and wiser.

It is a place in our home that makes me feel loved and cherished.  In this day of electronic messages via emails and texts, cards are much harder to come by.  And since each card is handwritten and signed by a loved one, we want to treasure every single card we receive. 

I suppose it is time for me to put together our holiday card to send out, amongst other things, right about now.  But, in the meantime, as you come to us this holiday season, Greeting Cards, you will have a happy home, clipped onto our red gift-wrapping ribbon, so that we can see the beautiful pictures you show us for weeks.  I very much look forward to seeing how much the children we love have grown, and the wonderful new things the people we love have accomplished this year.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dear Family

Dear Family,

Spending time with you is the essence of the holiday season.  This Thanksgiving, as always, we gather with family and friends to celebrate the joy of togetherness.

Family is a sanctuary, a place of warmth, a home.  It is where warm chocolate chip cookies are baked, and where the best chicken soup is simmered.  It smolders the most inviting fire in the hearth, resonates your favorite voices in the air, and provides the most comfortable beds and linens for rest.  Family is a place of relaxation, rejuvenation, and renewal.

Family is the faces of your best friends, who can laugh and cry with you on a whim.  They are most generous in times of need, and happiest for you in times of celebration.  They are the first people to whom you want to show your kids' school pictures, recital videos, and trophies of excellence.  Family is people who can finish your sentences with astounding accuracy.

Family is an anchor, a tether, a hand.  It holds onto you, nearby or far, before and after your stay, regardless of your traveling speed.  Its flexible grasp assures that you will never be lost, because you can always find your way back via that invisible but ever-present bond.  Family is a foundation built on familiarity, security, and a shared belief of faith and love.

I am grateful, and much blessed, to have you in my life.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dear Delayed Gratification

Dear Delayed Gratification,

Some say that you are a sign of maturity.  Being able to wait means that one is able to weigh choices and select the better one, not necessarily the faster one.  But grown-ups and children alike, we all struggle with the temptation of instant gratification. 

It was very interesting for me to watch Dear Daughter grasp the reward of delayed gratification.  She began to understand the difference between 'good-now' and 'better-later' around age 5 or 6.  Now that Dear Son is a few months shy of 5, I started wondering about his developmental progress on this psychological process.

There is no doubt that if I ask DD if she'd like to watch an episode of iCarly now, or two episodes after doing her homework, that she'd choose the latter with no hesitation.  DS, however, would mostly like have issues about questions of this sort, as he is a four-year-old that wants everything 'RIGHT. NOW'.

The other day, I decided to try a quick experiment on DS.  During afternoon snack time, I innocently asked him a question regarding his favorite thing in the world next to toys: candy.  I held up one finger and said, "Pick one: would you like to eat one piece candy now," and held up two fingers with my other hand, "or two pieces of candy after dinner?"  Overhearing this in the background, DD immediately answered, "I'd take the two pieces of candy after dinner."

But my eyes were fixated on DS, who began to show agitation as soon as I said the word "candy."  Then he realized that I just gave him a very hard question (for a 4-year-old).  He looked back and forth between my two hands, and then began to cry.  OH. THE. AGONY.  "Gen-u-wine" large drops of tears rolled from his eyes.  At first, he couldn't decide.  Then, he just flat out demanded to have two pieces of candy now.  I tried to restate the question to him, but to no avail.  All I got was more tears, more heartache, and more defiance.

Then his awesome big sister came to his rescue.  She offered a third choice to him: "How about you eat one now and one after dinner?"  With tears still in his eyes, and in the blink of an eye, DS changed his 'end-of-the-world' face to grinning from ear to ear.  And what expression do you think was on my face?  Um, yeah: you win; I lose.

For us grown-ups, delayed gratification is probably experienced on a much less agonizing scale, but still not without a price.  Dear Husband and I just faced our biggest challenge of delayed gratification (besides going through nine months of pregnancy, twice, to see the most precious beings in the world to us) -- we just planted tulips for the first time EVER.

You plant these bulbs in November, so that they can freeze underground and sprout 5 or 6 months later.  Talk about delayed gratification!  I bought a bag of 50 tulip bulbs from Costco, and DH bought me a handy-dandy tulip planter, a tool that digs out a cylinder-shaped chunk of soil to bury the bulbs underground.  Here's the part about paying a price: it took the two of us over an hour to plant them.  For something I won't even see for another half a year!  I couldn't dig the soil out as the ground was too hard, so DH stepped in to help.  He looked like he was jumping on a very short pogo stick in our yard (with a dulled, midget bounce and occasional rocking from side to side) for each bulb.  After unearthing a wire (we had no idea what it was), and being sweaty and winded from the planting (DH, not me), we were done.  These had better be some beautiful tulips come April or May.

But before I make too much fun of DS' candy experiment, I must admit that I am fully guilty of reeling in instant gratification because of one item I own: my smartphone.  Nowadays, practically everything is at my fingertips.  Everything is in 'push mode', or 'real time', or 'instant play'.  There is no more 'looking forward' to some computer online time at the end of the day.  It's there all day long, and there's no going back.  In fact, I recently turned off all my Facebook email notifications so that I am not being 'dinged' all day long.  But if you ever try to take away my smartphone, I will turn into an agonized, irritable, and howling four-year-old.  Guaranteed.

It is said that tolerating you, Delayed Gratification, means having better impulse control.  Well, I guess I have a lot to learn from DD, since occasionally, I sneak a piece of candy right before dinner time, when my tummy just needs a little something to tide me over...  But I promise I won't have another one after dinner.  Deal?


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dear Mini Muffin Pan

Dear Mini Muffin Pan,

You are also one of my original wedding gifts, which makes you a decade-and-a-half-old!  And, without a doubt, you are one of my favorite pieces in the kitchen.

I love to bake and eat homemade baked goods.  It's no wonder where my kids get their "sweet tooths" from.  But I am also a portion-control kind of girl.  I have to be.  We middle-aged people just cannot afford calories in excess, no matter how good the food is.  This is why my mini muffin pan comes in handy.  I use it to downsize sweets I bake, but also for a few other unconventional ways of baking and cooking.

We have all seen brownies on the market called Brownie Bites in the shape of a mini muffin.  We have also seen cupcakes downsized to this volume, making less room for frosting and thus sugar (which is better for kids' birthday party treats).  At our kiddos' favorite restaurant, Sweet Tomatoes, we also see mini fruit muffins and mini corn muffins.  Likewise at home, I bake these brownies, cupcakes, and muffins in my mini muffin pan on a regular basis.  But that's not where the fun ends.

I originally registered for my Calphalon non-stick mini muffin pan to make my petite, elegant, and very yummy Cheese Tarts.  I have been making these for so long (since high school) that I don't even remember where the recipe originally came from.  I've also modified it over the years, and the recipe has just imprinted in my head.  Originally, the recipe had a graham crack crumb crust.  I did away with it.  It made no sense to take up more space in these tiny muffin wells leaving less room for cheesecake!  If you're interested in trying bite-sized pieces of cheesecake heaven (instead of eating a large slice of calorie-attack cheesecake), here is the easy recipe:

  • 2 packages of 8 oz cream cheese, softened or at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar (can be reduced to 2/3 cup)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites, beaten until soft peaks form
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease mini muffin pan.
  2. Beat ingredients for filling in order listed.  Fill each well 3/4 full with filling.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. 
  3. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Meanwhile, prepare topping by mixing ingredients together with a spoon.  Place a dollop of topping onto the middle of each tart (the middles of tarts will deflate after it cools).  Return to oven for 5 minutes to set the topping.
  4. Cool for 5 minutes.  Carefully remove tarts from the wells.  (This part determines if you greased the pans well enough).  The tarts will have a nice brown crust made of cheesecake instead of graham cracker crumbs!

Another interesting way I use the mini muffin pan is to bake chocolate chip cookies in them.  I love Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies, or, as Phoebe Buffay would say, "Nes-Le Tol-louza" chocolate chip cookies.  I make the cookie dough as directed on the bag of chocolate chips, and then grease the mini muffin pan wells before placing dough in them.  I fill the pans just less than full, and bake for about 5 minutes longer than the recipe calls.  (Ovens and pans make baking time vary; a great rule of thumb is looking at the edge of the cookies -- a nice golden brown edge means it's done).   These chocolate chip cookies come out moist and chewy on the inside, and you don't get any odd-shaped cookies!  They are all the same size, shape, and color.  It's a great sight for the OCD in me.

Lastly, another great way to use the mini muffin pans is to make rice crispy treats in them.  I make rice crispy treats according to the recipe on the cereal box, and instead of filling a flat pan with it, I grease the mini muffin pan and put gooey rice crispy spoonfuls into them.  I press down with a spoon while it is still warm so that they are shaped into the wells.  When I run out of wells (I have 24), I put the rest into my silicone baking cups (love these as well -- no greasing necessary!).  When the rice crispy treats cool down, they come right out the pan -- so no cutting required.  They are each shaped alike, in small portions, and great for little fingers and hands!

My next new quest with these mini muffin pan is to make Brazilian cheese bread, Pao de Queijo.  If you've ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse, you have probably had these awesome cheese bread poppers that are so delicious it's almost criminal.  I wanted to take the leftovers in our basket to-go the last time we went to such a restaurant, but they wouldn't let me since it's an all-you-can-eat kind of place (and apparently they have rules).  Well, I'll make my own, and I'll show ya! 

The one thing I do have to remember about these yummy treats is my original mantra -- portion control.  And since everything is made smaller, having two is like having one regular-sized treat.  But the kids are always happier to hear that they can have two instead of one, so it's a win-win for me!

So mini muffin pan, I hope to continue to find new ways to use you, as well as new treats to make with you!  In fact, I'm even tempted to buy you a twin sister soon so that there will be less wait time to get to the yummy treats!


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dear Perspective

Dear Perspective,

You certainly have a way of giving us different views from different angles.  Characters within a book are entitled to their own perspectives, but the only person that can perceive all their perspectives is the reader, who can truly evaluate the story's relative significance as a whole.  

This week, my perspective changed dramatically from the eyes of a mom going about daily life to that of a mom with an injured child.  Now that Dear Son is recovering from his concussion, and as I consciously try to wade my way back to my original perspective, I find it a very difficult process.

The other night, DS was dancing by the dinner table to the moves of the Wii game, Just Dance.  He shook his booty and pumped his arms in circular motions this way and that while singing, "I like to move it, move it.  I like to move it, move it."   If you can imagine this, it would surely bring a smile to your face.  But just 24 hours prior to that dance, DS was in the ER, drifting in and out of consciousness between bouts of vomiting and getting a CT scan because he fell on the back of his head at school.

I first marveled at his speedy recovery, but then I marveled even more at the way my heart was strung on every ounce of the well-being of this kid.  I marveled at how inconsequential the daily trivial things have become since DS' accident.  Those silly little things I dwell on would mean nothing if my DS was not able to dance like a clown to the tune of Madagascar's hit soundtrack.

The very morning of the accident, the kids went to have their teeth cleaned and examined.  They both received a cavity-free report.  The dentist asked the routine questions of how much candy they eat and juice they drink.  She was surprised that I allowed them to eat candy.  At the time, I thought to myself, candy is fine in moderation, especially when they've never even had any cavities before.  But since the accident, I know I have been more generous than usual with candy to DS.  If the dentist or anyone judges me on that, then I know that person has probably never been with his or her child in the ambulance watching the paramedics flip the stretcher over with lightening speed as the child vomited from having suffered a head injury. 

DS' followup with his pediatrician was good.  He should take it easy for the next few weeks, as there is a very small chance of the need for a rescan if he gets any other concussion-related symptoms in the next 10 to 14 days.  Otherwise, the doctor thinks that he is going to be perfectly fine.

So here I am, with a child who had a head injury and has recovered, given the 2 to 3 week "caution period."  I just don't know how to relinquish him back into the real world come next week, when he has to go back to school and be out of my sight.  I am not going to be able to watch his enormous noggin all the time, or even be able to tell him to take it easy for the entire next 2 to 3 weeks.  Because every time I imagine how he fell, I get sick to my stomach.  I can only hope that he didn't really sense the pain because of amnesia from the concussion (he doesn't remember the fall or how it happened).  But that large bump on the back of his head tells it all...

But of course, I know that this perspective is the result of trauma as well as tunnel vision, and that I need to pull back and see the bigger picture.  I need to see things from all angles, and remember that feeding DS lots of candy is not generally a wise thing to do.  As I struggle to find my way back to normalcy, I am reminded by a very dear friend that I will eventually stop being paranoid about his every move.  I supposed time will help smooth out the wrinkles of telepathic pain between parent and the once sick or injured child.

So Perspective, please be patient with me while I diligently extract myself as a character within a book to become the reader of the book.  Show me your many views so that I can gain necessary balance for making wiser decisions.  Most of all, help me through this difficult period of keeping quiet and still an Energizer Bunny who just doesn't want to stop.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Dear Ready

Dear Ready,

My wait for you to help my kids 'do things by themselves' has been long and arduous.  For some reason, you did not come about for my kids the same time as you did for most other children.

This past weekend morning, I actually stayed in my warm, comfy bed while Dear Son went to the bathroom all by himself to pee.  The noise of that stream of pee never sounded so melodious to me -- because I didn't have to accompany him, like I have had to every single morning since he was potty-trained.  (Notice my use of the pronoun 'I', as no one else will do, but that is enough discussion for an entirely separate post altogether.)  This might come as a shock to some of you, but it was just recently that DS decided it was okay for him to use the restroom 'all by himself'.  I've seen kids half his age go to the bathroom alone, at which time I wondered, what is wrong with my child?  Why can't he be like everyone else? 

It was also recently that he decided that he was ready to eat by himself.  At our local pancake house this past weekend, I watched in awe as he put forkfuls of cut up pancake and scrambled eggs into his own mouth while I sat across from him, eating my own meal, uninterrupted.  I pinched myself to make sure I was not dreaming.  I thought this day would never come.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since Dear Daughter also went through a similar 'all by myself' pace, although her readiness came about just slightly earlier than DS.  I have had to remind myself to be patient, as DD is doing everything she should be doing by herself now.  No more "Mommy, you do it."  If I had a penny for each time I heard that, I would be a very rich mommy. 

Aside from early childhood developmental self-sufficiency, DD had an interesting 'readiness' experience that I shall never forget.  DD started taking violin lessons when she was five-years-old.  About two months after she started, her music school was going to hold the first of two solo concerts of the year for the students.  Since she just started playing violin, she would play the A String Concerto.  (If you know the Suzuki Method, that is playing the "Mississippi Hot Dog" rhythm eight times on the open A string.  If not you are not familiar with these terms, then it means playing the A note like so -- short, short, short, short, long, long -- eight times.)  There is piano accompaniment, which requires some coordination between the violinist and pianist.  We were told of this concert about a month prior to the date, and DD just flat out refused to do it.  She worried about this and that.  While I freaked out inside my head tried to stay as calm as possible, I suggested that we keep practicing for it in case she changed her mind.  Exactly one week before the concert date, she agreed to participate.  Just like that.  She wore her best puffy dress and played the A String Concerto that day like a pro.  Even she couldn't be more proud of herself.

So I wondered what is it that makes us 'ready'?  What makes that click, or decision, to be brave enough to do what it is that needs to be done?  Is it having enough practice?  Is it comfort in knowing that you can succeed?  Is it trusting yourself enough to know that it's doable?  Maybe it's all of the above.  I have come to learn that whatever it takes an individual to feel ready must come at that person's own pace.  No rushing or pushing or prodding is going to help much.  And it is something very hard for one to see in medias res.  And that is why hindsight is always so much wiser.

Now looking back, all those times I took DS to the bathroom was giving him the practice and confidence for him to be able to do it by himself.  So it took a little longer for him than others.  The amount of time during which I told DD we would just keep practicing was enough to make her know that she can do it.  It all seems so much clearer now than during those hard times, when self-doubt and frustrations clouded my own confidence about doing what's right for my kids.  It is only now that I can reflect on the things that my kids were ready for before other children were; but why is it that we usually only dwell on the "lacking" things rather than the "accomplished" things?  Parenting is one of those things where you can read up on what to do, but the actual timeline and practice vary greatly. 

As for myself, I had dabbled with the thought of blogging for at least a few years.  But there was a lot to overcome in order to begin.  I had to contemplate on how I would feel about friends and strangers knowing my thoughts and reading my writing.  I had to think about whether or not I can sustain a blog and not let it be a short term project.  I had to come up with an idea to make my blog interesting and stand out (or so I hope).  And so I forced myself not to dive in before I figured all this out and had really thought it through.  After enough brewing, I finally took the leap of faith and started writing.  No doubt, the words 'good enough' float around in my head every single time I write and every single time I press the 'publish' button, but I have been able to ignore them just enough to keep writing.  And I honestly have not found more joy in this than any other hobby in recent years.  Once I was ready, I opened the floodgates and just let the words splash out of my head.  Lucky for me, and sorry for you, if you're reading this. 

So Ready, you are like a light bulb that turns on after charging is complete.  You might even flicker or turn off momentarily, but once you're on for good, you light the way for a bright and hopeful future. (Note attached to said light: "Charging time varies.  Patience not included.")


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dear Cultural Identity

Dear Cultural Identity,

You have been an ever-changing facet in my life.  Though I have been immersed in my American culture longer than my Chinese culture, every now and then, something happens to make me feel so very grateful that I've held onto my native culture as snugly and as dearly as I have.

I carved my first pumpkin at age 37.  DH and I dragged home our first real Christmas tree in our mid-thirties.  The only Easter eggs I've come across are the ones we've hidden for the kiddos in the recent years.  This is because our parents were first generation immigrants who braved the cultural divide to come the the US to give their children opportunities that would otherwise not have been offered.  Life was hard enough to adjust to a new language and culture for our parents that things inherently 'American' were touched on, but not experienced fully.  Sure, we went trick-or-treating, and we had presents under the fake tree.  Thanksgivings were food a-plenty but turkey-less, and The Fourth of July fireworks were only beautiful lights in the sky and not much more.

But DH and I are not exactly second generation, either.  We both came to the US during grade school, after we had already learned how to speak, read, and write our native language.  We came here already with an imprint of our native culture like a badge that we wear.  We show off that badge whenever we continue to celebrate our cultural holidays by eating certain significant foods and performing various rituals.  We show off that badge when we somehow accept our mold of the model minority standard that makes us become high academic achievers.  And we show off that badge when we refuse to address people more senior than ourselves by their first names.  We are special because we are First-and-a-Half generation Chinese-Americans. 

Growing up in the South was quite interesting, as there were not a lot of Asians there thirty years ago.  I endured kids pulling on my pigtails and calling me "chopsticks."  At home, I was a Chinese girl who wanted to to be American.  Outside the home, I was never quite an American girl.  So when I went off the college on the west coast and saw a sea of black-haired Asian faces on campus, I felt like for once I might be finally understood.  In my Asian American Literature class, I read Maxine Hong Kingston's works, as well as works by other Asian American authors, such as Frank Chin, Louis Chu, Carlos Bulosan, and Gus Lee for the first time in my life.  It was there that I found resolve with my identity.  Coinciding the coming of age with exposure to the real world, I found myself not Chinese, not American, but Chinese-American.  Moreover, for me, cultural identity was not on one single spectrum with one culture on either end.  I realized that it was two separate spectrums with varying degrees of 'Chinese-ness' and 'American-ness.'  And I had the privilege to plot my points on both.  Appropriately, that was the premise of my college English major thesis paper. 

Life carried on.  DH and I moved to the Midwest, where with fewer Asian faces around, we lived our American life.  When the kiddos came, we did our darnedest to speak Chinese to them so that they could learn two languages.  But in reality, they are decidedly Americans living an American life in a home where, sometimes, their parents speak Chinese to each other.  And now I find myself carving pumpkins in October, serving a turkey in November, and keeping a Frasier pine tree alive in my home in December, among other things.  Because, now is when I can live my American life to the fullest so that my children can experience what their peers live, breathe, and know.  But, alas, everything is relative.  I have friends who probably think that DH and I are "too American, too white-washed."  I also have friends who probably think that we are "too Chinese" because we are unable to escape certain cultural burdens.  But no matter what people think, I know that every time I stand up to sing the Star Spangled Banner nowadays, I feel something very real, and very proud. 

Having said all that, something happened the other night that made me feel so incredibly complete that I lived and retained my Chinese culture.  DH and I were watching a Chinese program on our satellite TV.  It was like a Chinese version of American Idol, where in each episode, the contestants sing the songs of one particular artist.  That night, one of my favorite artists, a singer/songwriter/composer, was the choice artist and present at the show.  The contestants sang many of his songs I knew very well, including 童年 (which I wrote about here).  And as I watched and walked down memory lane, I was actually able to belt it out with the contestants here and there.  Then came one song that I had never heard of.  Its title is 亞細亞的孤兒,  The Orphans of Asia.  Perhaps I never heard this song by chance, or perhaps because it was once banned in Taiwan.  What really caught my attention was the beauty of the lyrics, the sadness in the music, and the heartbreaking images it evokes.  


亞細亞的孤兒 在風中哭泣
黃色的臉孔 有紅色的污泥 
黑色的眼珠 有白色的恐懼 
西風在東方 唱著悲傷的歌曲 

亞細亞的孤兒 在風中哭泣 
沒有人要和你 玩平等的遊戲 
每個人都想要 你心愛的玩具 
親愛的孩子 你為何哭泣 

多少人在追尋 那解不開的問題 
多少人在深夜裡 無奈的嘆息 
多少人的眼淚 在無言中抹去 
親愛的母親 這是什麼道理 

詞/曲  羅大佑

My translation:

The Orphans of Asia

The orphans of Asia are weeping in the wind
Their yellow faces are tainted with red mud
Their black pupils are surrounded by white terror
The west wind is in the East singing a sorrowful melody

The orphans of Asia are weeping in the wind
No one wants to play fair with you
Yet everyone wants your favorite toy
My dear child -- why are you crying? 

Countless people are searching for that unanswerable question
Countless people are sighing with frustration in the night
Countless people are wiping away tears in silence
Dear Mothers -- how can this be justified? 

Writer/Composer Luo Da You 

Unfortunately, translating this song into English takes away much of its meaning and beauty.  On the surface, it seems to be describing the lost orphans of Pan Asia, but the writer's actual intent was to describe Taiwan and its people as the orphans of the world.  Debuted during a time of political turmoil in 1983, this song was banned in Taiwan because of its political overtones.  Later, it was banned in China when people sang this song during the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.  Undoubtedly, this genius writer struck a nerve.  I heard this song in 2011, and it pulled my heartstrings.  Politics aside, it is an incredible song of philosophy, poetry, and history.

I would have never had the opportunity to hear this song, understand it, and find out the history of these meaningful words and haunting music if I hadn't been Chinese before I became an American.  And because we are American, DH and I are able to, without even a flinch, say "I love you" to our children and shower them with hugs and kisses everyday, while neither of us had that experience ourselves as children.  That, in essence, is the beauty of my bi-cultural life.   

To sum you up, Cultural Identity, when it comes to a bi-cultural identity, it is not an "either-or," but a "both."  Some might think that we First-and-a-Half generation Chinese-Americans are "neither-nor," but I choose to see us as living an even more enriched life, precisely because we are "both."