Domesticated

July 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

This isn’t an open invitation to stalkers and burglars, but as some of you know, my parents have been in China for the past month, leaving me at home with my precious brother. I knew this month was coming for a long time, and I mostly looked forward to it. Babysitting my 15-year-old brother, whom I might add should be fully capable of babysitting himself, is totally worth getting mother out of the house for four weeks. And now that this pseudo-independence is coming to an end [my dad came home today], I’m taking the time to reflect on what I’ve learned.

Taking care of a house requires a lot of work — at least, much more work than 1/4 of an apartment. There’s trash to take out, laundry to do, food to keep from expiring, vacuuming, dishes, grocery shopping, piles and piles of mail to open, etc. And why do we have so many plants?! There are flowers both in the back and the front of the house that I have to water every day unless it rains, and the 15 potted plants in the house are watered weekly.

To be honest, housework wasn’t so bad. I generally enjoy keeping my own space clean, even if it means disinfecting the counters every night, which I’m pretty sure even my mother doesn’t do [I’m anal about counters, she’s anal about floors; we just never agree]. If my mom saw me cleaning this much, she’d probably demand to know why I don’t behave like this all the time. And I would tell her that I’m doing this because right now, this is my house, with my rules and responsibilities, and when she gets back, it goes back to being her house and responsibility. It’s rather selfish and ungrateful, but if she insists on treating me like a child, then dagnabbit, I’ll resort to acting like one.

Also, because my parents obviously take care of the bills, I didn’t have to worry about finances like a real housewife would. Does this mean I’m cut out for this kind of lifestyle? I don’t think so. It was fun for a month because I knew it was temporary: Eventually my parents will come home, I’ll find a job and move out to live my own life. I couldn’t imagine doing this kind of monotonous, thankless work for years and years as my main occupation. Then again, it was tiring enough to balance everything — house, brother, long-distance boyfriend — that it seems impossible to juggle a house, kids, husband and a full-time job. How do people do it??

Lately I realized that amidst all the errands and chores, it’s pretty easy to put myself last. Now, my experience was pretty tame, but I’m drawing connections here. I wake up and spend two hours tutoring a family friend. In the afternoon, I drive my brother to soccer practice. While he’s out of the house for two hours, I’d like to use the time to tan on the balcony or something, but instead I have to prepare dinner. After I pick him up and finish cooking, I devote an hour to washing dishes and doing miscellaneous cleaning. Then it’s a few hours on the phone with B. Sure, if I really wanted time, I could make time, but if I amplified all of these obligations by the magnitude of real life, it seems intensely exhausting. Like I said before, how do people do it?

I’ve learned a lot about my brother, too.

He has his good moments: saying thank you after I let him borrow my headband so he can wash his face properly. Mowing the lawn without me even mentioning it [though he did make a prior deal with the ‘rents]. The look of slight surprise when he realizes that the food I cook is actually tasty.

But those tender moments are only considered tender because of what I have to put up with the other 99 percent of the time. Larry is in this exasperating phase of life [fingers crossed that his character will improve one day] in which he respects no one and has enough arrogance for three people. Typical teenage boy, you say? Well, no. That doesn’t make it acceptable, and as all Asian parents know, comparing yourself with the average people in a group will get you nowhere.

I blame a lot of things on my mother because I’m an ungrateful and bitter daughter, but considering I’ve been gone at school for four years and my father is out of town five out of seven days a week for almost 52 weeks a year, I find that quite a few character flaws in my brother can be traced back to my mother, his primary caretaker. [Although I do know that my father bears an equal share of the blame for being absent for most of Larry’s life].

It’s safe to say that my brother is the most high-maintenance person in this family. Sure, I don’t go out without wearing makeup and I’m terrible at packing lightly, but my mother spoils Larry like he’s the heir apparent or something.

For example, he refuses to eat leftovers. If it makes it to the fridge, it’s as good as moldy. When she’s at home, she cooks something new for him every night. It might sound like typical parental labor, but it’s really not easy. Cooking dinner for five days straight this past week — more than I ever did for myself at school — was enough to make me swear it off for all of next week. My mother doesn’t even enjoy cooking that much, not like my dad does. [As fate would have it, Larry refuses to eat anything my dad makes.] I could tell when I got home from school that her cooking had become robotic, fit to a formula of the few foods that Larry will actually agree to consume. Food doesn’t taste good if there’s no love or creativity, and I think Larry could tell too. It’s tragic that the selfish little prick is sucking the life out of our mother, which is why I’m sure this vacation is just what she needed. The sad thing is, my brother treats our mother this way because she allows him to.

Another incident that flared my temper recently was on Friday night, when I was hanging out at LC’s house with her and XZ. At 1AM, Larry called me.
“When are you coming home?” he asked.
“Um, later…maybe in half an hour,” I responded. What the hell? Isn’t this a conversation I usually have with my controlling and curfew-enforcing mother?
“No!” he objected. “If you don’t come home now, I can’t go to sleep!”
“What the heck?? Just go to sleep, who cares?”
“You’ll make too much noise when you get back so I can’t sleep!” He was becoming irate. “Just sleep over there and don’t come back!”
Dumbfounded, I was certainly not going to be kicked out of the house by my teenage brother. “I’m coming home later, just go to sleep!”
“Oh my f***ing gosh,” he muttered as we hung up on each other.

I was pissed, but this was only one manifestation of a deeply entrenched and skewed attitude my brother has. What makes him think he’s the most important person in the house? What makes him think he has a right to give other people orders? What gives him the right to possess almost a negative amount of humility?

I realized once again that it’s because my mother allows him to be this way. She treats him like he’s the most important person in the house. She acquiesces to the majority of his requests. I could write another thousand words on why my parents are bad at disciplining my brother, but another factor is that Larry takes after my mother’s method of dealing with problems at home, which is to throw a loud and violent tantrum. When it comes to stubborn anger, she can’t win against him. And everybody in this house, including my brother, suffers from this mess.

I didn’t mean for this post to deteriorate into venting about my family members, but these are all things I’ve been learning. I can only hope — fervently, desperately hope — that when it comes to raising my own family, history doesn’t repeat itself.

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Hasta Luego, Mexico

April 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a compilation of my final thoughts on my trip to Mexico.

The Mexico City airport security rides on Segways! I tried to get a photo but couldn’t. Also, all their TV screens have huge LG and Samsung labels attached [only relevant if you’re interested in Korean things lol]. I thought national tourism videos were cheesy when going to different countries, but the “welcome to America” one was pretty unbearable too.

Our hotel room had two beds, and my father discovered a narrow fold-out bed from the wall. Amazing! My brother was originally supposed to sleep on it, but he complained that it was too hard. I tried it out and thought it was acceptable — honestly, after sleeping on the slab of concrete that passed for a mattress at Hong Kong University, any other mattress is comparatively comfortable.

Me & my bed

★★★

On Tuesday, we [minus my brother, but obviously he had to come along] wanted to go shopping for some souvenirs. We had heard that public buses traveled from the hotel strip to the downtown flea markets, so that morning, we boarded a bus and asked to be taken to the downtown market. I imagined a colorful, vibrant place with people selling authentic Mexican goods from small shops with both tourists and locals mixing together in a wonderful cacophony of commerce. It was an exciting prospect.

The bus took us past dozens and dozens of resorts, each constructed with just enough exotic Mexican flavor and with names like Fiesta Americana and Beach Palace. We seriously drove for half an hour and saw nothing but hotels and big name restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe. Seeing any sign of native life was clearly not an option for the majority of tourists.

A particularly massive resort + golf course.

When we arrived at our appointed stop, I stepped off the bus in a daze of disappointment. All I saw was a small, deserted strip of touristy shops. The bus drove off, and the four of us were left alone. And unlike in Asia, there was no way we could pass as locals. We were the only foreigners in sight.

Shopping has never been so lonely (thats me in there).

I don’t know if it’s because we were there somewhat early in the day, but we were seriously the only shoppers there. And while the shop owners weren’t overly aggressive or desperate, I still couldn’t enjoy myself. Some would follow us around the shop, one guy kept putting his hand on my back [ew], and most would try to get me to haggle with them even though I despise haggling.

“What’s the lowest price you’ll pay? C’mon!” NOTHING! Nevermind! Just leave me alone!

The shops didn’t even have anything great, just t-shirts and shot glasses and touristy junk that I couldn’t bring myself to buy because they were simply useless. Surprisingly, most of the stores sold cute little glass or stone pipes, and I was interested in buying some for my friends just for the novelty of it, but the prices were too high to justify a purchase that would never really be used. At least, I’m pretty sure none of my close friends smoke >_>

Not sure how to use these little guitar pipes.

The whole experience was just horribly unpleasant, and we only bought a few small things before making our way down the street to look for more shops. We came across the equivalent of a dollar store, which sold cheaply made products at a low price. The hilarious thing was that most [if not all] of their products came from China. LOL. Some even had Chinese words printed on the packaging! I didn’t take a picture because the employees kept watching us.

We then made our way across the street to a grocery store. It might seem weird that we’d visit a local supermarket while on vacation [and my brother certainly had thoughts about that], but it was probably the closest thing to authentic Mexican culture we were going to see that day. There were some interesting sights:

How many different ways can you cook chopped hot dogs? How about 12? o_o

Ginormous jugs of juice! Dad is there for size comparison.

★★★

At breakfast on Thursday, mother commented on some guy’s shirt. “Did you see it? It says Bikini is better.”
Dad cut in. “That’s probably because of his wife.”
I had seen neither the guy nor his wife, but I assumed my dad meant his wife was hot. On the contrary:
“She was so stocky that he probably meant for his wife to lose weight so she can wear a bikini,” dad continued. I rolled my eyes at his lame attempt at a joke.

A few minutes later, we were discussing the two Canadian girls I had met the other day.
“I saw them tanning on the beach,” dad said. “Really fat, both of them.”

At this point, I had had enough of these comments. I used to take for granted that my parents would ask me about my weight every time I came home from school, but recently I’ve realized that only my dad asks me anymore. Additionally, I’ve come to realize that he’s pretty socially conservative [he voted for McCain, for heaven’s sake], but could he also be…sexist? I decided to call him out on it.

“Dad, why do you care so much about people being fat?” I asked. “You talk about it a lot.”
He blinked. “I just want people to get thinner and healthier,” he replied.
“But you only talk about women being fat,” I pressed. “You talked about those female dancers at the show on Tuesday night. And that bikini shirt guy’s wife. And those two girls from Canada. And you always ask me if I’ve gotten skinnier.”
Mother laughed. “Your dad clearly has a problem.”

Dad was taken aback by my confrontation. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, and I smiled back at him. I can’t have my own father being sexist…that would be simply unacceptable!

★★★

Gross.

I’ve never really been sunburned before — the first time it happened was when I was lying on the beach in New Jersey and my butt got slightly burned, which I didn’t discover until I showered. I definitely learned  to cover my bum with sunscreen after that. And despite all the other times I’ve ever spent in the sun, I’ve only ever gotten tan, not red.

Thus, I took for granted the fact that my skin would be immune to the sun’s UV rays. Well, that didn’t work out so well, because the sunshine near the equator is NO JOKE.

My sternum was the first thing that showed while we were still in Cancun. Initially, there were blotches of red that made me look like a horrible tie-dye experiment. Other parts of my body — mostly extremities — tingled when I showered, but I thought that would be the worst of it. I just rubbed ointment and lotion everywhere and figured my body would get over it soon. Alas…

The following week, I thought all hell had broken loose on my upper chest. My skin was caked with white as if I had just walked through flour. It was both shocking and frightening to look at, honestly. It made my skin crawl — the skin that wasn’t already dead, that is.

Soon, however, I became slightly obsessive about picking at my peeling epidermis. It was captivating to rip shreds off my own skin to reveal the new layers underneath. When my chest area cleared up, I thought that was the end of it. Again, I was proven wrong. A few days later, it spread to my arms. Then my legs. Every time I got out of the shower, new cracks in my skin were revealed, which was at once disgusting and morbidly fascinating. I could spend hours examining my skin and picking at it. The Internet says I should leave it alone, but the wounds are no longer raw — they’re just dead, hanging skin, and they need to get off my body.

Chichen Itza Chicken Pizza

April 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

Before coming to Cancun, I looked up the tours offered by the resort, some of which sounded amazing. ATV ride through the jungle? Horseback riding to a cenote? Sign me up PLEASE. But mother [& her wallet] had other ideas, so after some deliberation, we settled on a tour to Chichen Itza instead.

Not pictured: me dying of dehydration.

Neither my father nor brother wanted to go, and at $77/person, this full-day tour wasn’t exactly for the softcore tourist. My dad was actually grumpy about it, demanding why we would want to spend all day on a bus. My brother was more or less the same: “Have fun going to see a stupid pyramid.” It’s so difficult living with uncultured brutes. We gladly ditched them at the hotel.

We set off at 7:10 in the morning on a coach bus full of other tourists. Right away, we could tell that this wasn’t going to be some crappy quality tour, as the tour guides began the day by offering us orange juice, coffee and pastries. We had three conductors, each of whom was very good. I wish I had gotten pictures with them :(

Marco Antonio gave details and instructions on the places we were going to see, which were not simply limited to the Chichen Itza site. Tony, who was part Mayan, told us a brief history of the Yucatán province. “Don’t worry about leaving your belongings on the bus,” he said. “There are no more banditos in the area.” His eyes shifted. “They all left and became politicians.” LOL. Norma was our guide through Chichen Itza; she, too, was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the place.

In elementary school, I was part of the gifted program, called Project Arrow. It was there that I was first exposed to the Mayan civilization, with their dots and dashes and hoop ball game and astronomy. Looking at historical artifacts arranged behind glass in museums is incredibly boring, but learning the history while seeing the structures up close was immensely gratifying to the brain. This is the land where they walked. This is the alter where they sacrificed humans.

 

Imagine hitting a ball through that little hoop with a paddle o_0

I learned things such as the fact that Mayans sacrificed young boys, not girls. The adults who were beheaded and otherwise sacrificed were considered heroes who gave up their lives for the good of the people. Mayans had a fixation with serpents and planetary movements. There was a small stone hump on their alter because it’s easier to tear somebody’s heart out of his chest when his back is arched. White limestone highways are blinding to walk on during the hot day, but they glow in the moonlight. It is commonly accepted that Mayans had Asiatic roots. The ball game that they played wasn’t for sport; it was a religious ritual, and the winner was beheaded as an honor. It’s false that Mayans no longer exist — apparently they are 7 million strong.

One thing that the tour guides emphasized was the fact that tourism fuels the economy here. “Prior to 40 years ago, Mayans were moving away from the Yucatán to more metropolitan areas to find better jobs,” Tony told us. “But when Cancun opened, when Chichen Itza opened, they provided ways to make a living.” It was something I had wondered about as well — how much does Mexico’s economy benefit from/depend on tourism? Mother told me she heard a joke about Americans coming to Mexico for vacations while Mexicans went to America for jobs.

Anyhow, it was apparent from the countless vendors lined up at Chichen Itza that this was how they survived. I thought about this as mother haggled with one of them for some souvenirs I wanted to buy. I had already brought the price down to 30 pesos [less than $3] for three trinkets, but mother insisted on getting three for 20 pesos. I understand that this is also my parents’ hard-earned money, but really, who needs that dollar more, we or the peddler? In most circumstances that I’ve ever experienced in any country, I’d argue the latter.

 

Buying souvenirs!

Chichen Itza was significantly hotter than Cancun — it’s 150 miles inland and as flat as Illinois — so as much as I enjoyed taking photos with my parents’ DSLR, I was ready to throw up and pass out from heat and dehydration by lunchtime. Mother said it was more than 100 degrees out there. After lunch, our tour took us to a cenote, which is basically a huge, naturally occurring underground water reservoir. Steps had been carved into the stone so that we could climb down and see from inside. People were encouraged to change into their swimsuits and take a dip in the refreshing water.

There was a small Mayan dance performance taking place near the water as entertainment. I appreciated the show as much as they appreciated the tips, I’m sure, but it led me to wonder at the authenticity of everything. Is that how ancient Mayans actually dressed and danced, or is that simply what they know tourists want to see? I picked the Chichen Itza tour [as opposed to some exotic-sounding waterpark] because I wanted to experience real Mexico, but as a tourist, I can never truly be sure if I’m getting the authentic thing.

In any case, the tour was satisfying and definitely worth the money. It’s different going on things like this as an adult, guided by people who clearly believe in the worth of what they’re promoting. That’s what sets this experience apart from all the excruciating historical tours I’ve been on with my parents in China.

More photos:

 

Wish I had brought the huge long-distance lens for the camera!

Can't emphasize enough how much I love my parents' new Canon Rebel.

 

Owners of the property apparently bought the land + ruins for $72 back in the day o_o relevant to the photo because they then built the Mayaland Hotel with this chandelier lol

Inside the cenote/underground cave. Absolutely beautiful.

 

Mother + me with the performers :)

VIDEO:

Note: “chicken pizza” is the incorrect pronunciation of Chichen Itza, according to our tour guides. But my mom likes saying it that way :P

Bienvenidos a Cancún

March 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

We took a red-eye flight to Mexico, leaving the house at 10:30PM via Aeromexico. I guess it was due to the size of the airline, but we were relegated to the outer terminal at O’Hare. It was relatively empty. When we got in line for Aeromexico, the nearby usher guy gestured to us and said, “The line for Shanghai is over there.” I raised both eyebrows. I mean, we did look out of place, but really? Damn.

I barely slept that night. For some reason, I forced myself to stay awake during our four-hour stopover in Mexico City, and after we arrived in the humid mid-morning of Cancun, I pretty much wanted to die. We’re staying at Royal Solaris, which is the first all-inclusive hotel we’ve stayed at. All necessities are included — drinks (alcohol), pools, food, entertainment, etc.

As my parents sat down with one of the staff to go over hotel information, my brother and I wandered over to the bar to order some soda.

“Where are you guys from?” asked the bartender, a young-ish Mexican guy.
My brother and I answered simultaneously. “Chicago.” “USA.” “Chicago,” I corrected myself.
He asked again. “Where are you from?”
“Chicago,” I repeated.
He looked at us. “You’re really from there?”
We nodded. Did he not believe us..?
“You were born there? Not Japan, somewhere?”
Inwardly, I scoffed in disbelief. The ethnicity question can be an awkward one to ask, but the “Where are you from no where are you really from” tactic is just rude. I didn’t expect to encounter it here, but I guess I shouldn’t expect too much racial sensitivity in this tourist haven.

Going on vacation can bring out either the worst or best in people. Spending five days at a resort in Cancun should undoubtedly make any family happy, and my parents and I would be at maximum cheerfulness if it weren’t for my selfish prick of a brother. Now that he’s arguably stronger than me and our aging father, he takes every opportunity to poison the mood.

“Shut up,” he says to anyone in any given situation. He acts ostensibly chagrined to be anywhere near us or do anything with us, always sulking in a corner somewhere. He threatens to smash the camera if we try to take a picture of or with him. He’s no longer afraid to swear audibly in our presence. I’d really like to punch him in the face, but I don’t think that would teach him to be a better son.

I used to attribute this behavior to mere teenage moodiness, but there is no foreseeable improvement. I don’t particularly care what he says to me, but the tremendous disrespect he delivers to my parents is appalling. They choose to ignore it half the time.

Now that I’m 21, I’ve started to drink somewhat openly with my parents. I ordered some banana-pineapple mixed drink at the pool bar today. My mom’s eyes widened when she realized it was alcoholic, but she got over her initial surprise pretty quickly. I ordered a margarita at dinner [it turned out to be disgusting], and later traded it for a Miami Vice [it was delicious]. My brother tried some of my margarita and got a mouthful of salt LOL.

I’m not sure if it’s the journalist side of me or if it’s simply a personal habit, but when I look at some people, especially those in the business of service, I can’t help wondering who they are outside of this job. How did they get here? Do they like the job? Is it enough to provide for their families?

I thought about this as I watched the waiters work the buffet area during dinner last night. I thought about it at the beach today as I watched the handful of Mexican men selling sunglasses and other trinkets to sunbathing tourists. I also thought about it while watching the Mexican dance show provided by the resort’s theater.

In high school, I occasionally read the blog of a guy who worked as entertainment staff at Disney World — he and the other workers seemed to hate it. Indeed, donning a Goofy costume is not considered a very good job in America. But is performing in hotel shows in Cancun considered good work in Mexico? Do these people hate their jobs too, despite the bright smiles they show the audience? How much money does a sunglasses-seller make every day? What are the ambitions of the waiters who serve us drinks? All this thinking makes it difficult to enjoy the social privilege I have as a tourist here.

Anyway, these are my thoughts from the first two days here. I haven’t done much except eat, drink and tan. I wish I had photos to share but I haven’t used my camera at all, and I haven’t had time to get the pictures I’ve taken on my parents’ Nikon. I’m currently sitting with them while listening to the two-person band in the lobby/bar area, which is the only place with wi-fi. A 24-year-old Vietnamese girl from Toronto that I met this afternoon told me that the nightlife here is better than Vegas, but I don’t think this is the right opportunity to go clubbing, as much fun as it sounds. A girl at the table next to me just said that the cover for the VIP club is $49, which is pretty heinous anyway.

That’s all for now! I’ll have more to share in a few days :)

Tiger Mother

January 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

I just finished reading Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” a hotly discussed excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The first time reading through it was difficult. Somebody asked if it was a satire, and I wondered the same thing. It sounded like somebody was writing based off of pure stereotypes to portray Chinese mothers as ruthless tyrants.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.

This is like taking the little things Asian kids joke about to each other and publishing them as rote truth. I couldn’t even read this in one sitting because it just seemed so negative. Articles like this don’t do much to dispel the “model minority” myth. It’s not hard to see why there was major backlash against Chua after this was published; tales of no sleepovers and hours of piano practice will probably cause a visceral reaction in anybody raised in the United States, myself included.

But I read on because I really wanted to know what she had to say.

For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

If anything, the final two paragraphs of the article are the most worthwhile to read. I don’t want to condone this kind of “extreme parenting” just as much as the next person. These lines from the Huffington Post describe me exactly:

Chua is prescribing life motivated by perfectionism — fear of failure, fear of disappointment. Not only is this a vicious form of unhappiness, but research by Carol Dweck and many others shows that kids who are not allowed to make mistakes don’t develop the resilience or grit they need later in life to overcome challenges or pick themselves up when they do fail.

So I have to say that even if Chua’s advice is not good & true, it’s at least accurate in my life.

My mother was born in the year of the tiger, and it’s something she treasures. Back when Beanie Babies were popular, we’d always have two of them displayed prominently on a bookshelf in the house: a bull for my father and a tiger for my mother. She wasn’t as extreme as the cases outlined by Chua; I was allowed to go to the occasional sleepover, and she never bothered coercing me into more than 1.5 hours of piano practice.

But I’ve also had my share of threats throughout the years, including this morning in the car, which was another lecture on the overall uselessness of my life. If my mother ever cared about my happiness, it was only from the perspective of happiness approved by her, based off of her own principles and priorities.

Ultimately, I’m not sure either the “Eastern” self-esteem-based-on-parental-approval method or the “Western” self-esteem-based-on-personal-approval method would bring true happiness to a child. People are so prone to mental and emotional changes that something as fragile as self-esteem can only be considered solid if grounded in something unchanging, like the eternal God.

In any case, I don’t hold Amy Chua’s work against her. I just hope that she doesn’t misrepresent Chinese people, and I hope she doesn’t damage her children, because they won’t always want to laugh and cuddle after hours and years of forced piano practice.

Family Trees and Wise Teeth

January 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

On Sunday night, my parents went to the airport to pick up a distant relative, who is currently a freshman at Virginia Tech. Apparently, his great-grandpa is my grandpa’s oldest brother, which makes this boy a distant nephew of mine, and it makes him my mother’s cousin. My mom said she would draw me a family tree, but she never got around to it.

His flight arrived around 11:30PM [way to be considerate of people who have work the next day…], and I made sure to leave my makeup and normal clothes on until they got home because I expressly wanted him to see how I normally look before getting my wisdom teeth removed the next day LOL. Is that vain? I just wanted to make a good impression.

They didn’t get home until 1:45AM, by which time my brother was already asleep. I padded downstairs and met a skinny boy who towered over both my parents.
“You can call him dà wēi,” my mom said.
“Do you have an English name?” I asked him.
“Mahoné,” he replied.
“…Is that a Hawaiian name?”
“It’s Icelandic.”
This boy was clearly atypical, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. At least he was a lot cuter than our last house guest. My parents set him up in the guest room and we all went to sleep.

The pre-surgery instructions directed me not to eat for six hours before surgery. I thought it would be easy, since I’m usually not hungry in the morning anyway. The instructions also prohibited makeup and nail polish, which made me laugh. I mean, I wasn’t about to make myself pretty for surgery, but how would nail polish affect anything? I typically always wear both, and I wasn’t about to remove my nail polish for no reason. What a waste.

The next morning, I woke up in a foul mood for some reason. I was hungry but couldn’t eat anything, and sat in the car hating everything about the world on the way to the oral surgeon. Mother didn’t help things. I dislike being in the car alone with her because there’s no way to escape if she starts lecturing me, and I certainly didn’t want to hear it that morning.

But it came anyway.
“Are you being serious about looking for a job? Do you understand what your choices are after graduation? What use is it if your father and I came to America if you’re going to be as poor as we were when you graduate?”
During his sermon the previous day, Pastor Alex said that on average, parents and children have 38 minutes of meaningful conversation a day. In my family, I think it’s less than 10% of that even if you combine my brother and me.

Mother was left in the waiting room as the nurses led me into the operating room. I felt nervous. I hate the thought of surgery, the thought of being cut open, the thought of drugs making me lose control of my body, everything. They fitted a tube around my nose for laughing gas, but I still felt too aware. When the IV needle pricked into the back of my hand, I closed my eyes and tried hard not to think about that one summer in China when I got pneumonia and had a needle stuck in my hand every day for two weeks.

One of the nurses fitted something onto my fingertip.
“Let me see if this will read through your nail polish,” she said. Oops. I wondered if they had nail polish remover in their office, but it turned out to be okay. Good thing I only painted two coats this time.

Eventually I lost consciousness. I vague remember the feeling of plastic instruments being shoved into my mouth, which is quite undignified if I think about it, but that’s all I can recall. I awakened with gauze in the far corners of my mouth and a numb bottom lip. We went home and I removed the semi-bloody gauze, sipped on a bit of chicken rice soup [while avoiding the chicken & rice], took my three pills [one for swelling, one for pain, and one for infections], put more gauze in and went to bed.

That night, my aunt’s family came over for dinner to welcome Mahone to town. They made dumplings — I’ve never wanted to eat dumplings so badly in my life [well except maybe when I watched Kung Fu Panda]. Instead, I sat next to Mahone and silently sulked over some bland egg pudding my aunt kindly made for me. She also kept asking me questions about my jaw, which I had difficulty answering due to the swelling. Moral of the story: Don’t try to get me to talk to you if I can barely open my mouth wide enough to stick a spoon in.

I noticed that Mahone wore one tiny earring in each earlobe. Interesting. During dinner, someone asked about his hair, which seemed an artificial brown color.
“Actually, I have naturally brown hair,” he replied. “My mom says that my father had light hair when he was young too, and it turned darker as he got older.”
We all looked at him. I mean, the kid wasn’t that old, but 19 isn’t that young either, to have that kind of condition still lingering about.
“My hair is usually lighter than this, but I dyed it a darker shade of brown,” he continued. What an interesting fellow.

After finishing my meager portion, I took my meds and went back to my room. It was too depressing to watch other people eat what I couldn’t have. I eventually started feeling nauseated and dizzy, so I curled up in bed again and watched Kuragehime, which was an absolutely delightful anime.

I woke up around 9PM to take my medicine, went back to sleep, and awakened again around midnight still feeling nauseated. I really didn’t want to eat, but I had to take my pills, so I went downstairs to reluctantly scoop a bowl of ice cream. It was Oberweis Black Cherry, but I couldn’t even eat the cherry chunks.

Surprisingly, Mahone joined me in the kitchen. He was by the sink making himself hot water when I walked out of the bathroom.
“Thirsty?” I asked.
“Just not feeling well.”
“Mm…likewise.”

I had brought my laptop downstairs with me.
“What are you watching?” he asked.
“Just…some Japanese cartoons,” I replied.
“Cool.” He took his cup of water and a small bowl of mixed nuts and bid me adieu.

I turned my attention back to my bowl. Ice cream is one of those foods [like chocolate cake and PB&J sandwiches] that I can eat forever and ever, so it was weird having to force myself to ingest it this time. The texture was smooth [once I scraped off all the freezer burns], but the enjoyment simply wasn’t there. I wasn’t even allowed to brush my teeth that day, so I just stumbled back into bed afterward.

The past few days have pretty much followed the same pattern. Wake up, nibble on something liquidy, sleep for a few hours, repeat. I didn’t shower for two days because really, there was no point. The good part is that my mom is actually taking care of me, unlike that one time I stayed home sick in elementary school and she made me clean out my closet, and nobody questions my strange eating or sleeping schedule.

On the other hand, I still have a squarely defined jawline, I can only open my already-small mouth partway, attempting to chew anything is exhausting, and I eat so slowly that my food gets cold before I’m even half done with it. Also, I’ve contributed even less to society than usual. I wonder when this parasitic lifestyle will get old? Life would be much easier if my house had a better Internet connection, too.

This is me as of yesterday [feel free to check out the “About Me” page for what I normally look like]:

And so I continue to sit on the couch while watching anime. Hopefully I will be well enough by tomorrow to pick my dad up from the airport!

The Family That Saves Together

December 26, 2010 § 3 Comments

The last time it felt like Christmas in my house was when I was in middle school: The morning sun shone into our living room as we gathered in front of the Christmas tree. I shrieked when I unwrapped the gift from my parents:

The other present, from “Santa,” was Pokémon Silver [how did he know?! Just kidding; I’m pretty sure I stopped believing in Santa by the age of 7]. At that point in time, my brother Larry was still young enough to be somewhat obedient and willingly join our family for pictures and stuff. After opening all our presents, my dad went to go put a Christmas CD into the stereo system, and we played contently with our new belongings as the sounds of a children’s choir echoed throughout the house.

Since then, many things have changed. We’ve spent Christmas at Disney World, at our new house; the past four years have been spent skiing in Wisconsin; I ordered my past two Christmas presents “from my parents” online for myself; we’ve become disillusioned with the enchanting idea of a cohesive family.

Yesterday, I started reading The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan. I love reading her books not only for obvious reasons (she’s an amazing writer whose stories about Chinese-American women relate directly to me), but also because they always remind me that cherishing family is extremely difficult yet extremely important. And so I write.

This Christmas, I was awakened at 11AM by a heartwarming text from DP. I could’ve slept for another two hours, but I figured it would be rude to wake up so late on a holiday. When I peeked into the hallway, only Larry’s bedroom door was open; I could hear faint sounds of him playing Call of Duty downstairs. I tiptoed down to wish him a Merry Christmas and took it as a good sign that he didn’t respond with his usual “Shut up, fatty.”

My mom came out of her room as I was entering the bathroom, and when I came back out, I could hear the rustling of tissue paper from the living room.
“Thanks, Laura,” she called up to me.
“Are you not going to wait for the rest of us?!” I responded loudly.
“Oh, sorry!”
Sigh.

I went down to the living room as Larry was examining his gift from our aunt in New Jersey; it was a navy blue American Eagle sweatshirt.
“I already have two navy blue sweatshirts without zippers,” he said. “And I don’t wear American Eagle…”

Our aunt had sent me a Christmas card containing $40, and I looked at it for a while, thinking. A week ago, our other aunt [the one who lives five minutes away] had slipped my brother and me a pair of red envelopes, each holding $200. The two of us were left agape, and he handed me his envelope to deal with. Later, I gave both of them to my mom.

“How much did she give you guys?” she asked.
“Two hundred each.”
“What?? Is my sister crazy??”
“I…don’t know. Maybe you should take $200 to give to my cousin and then leave me and Larry with $100 each,”  I suggested.

The aunt who lives in New Jersey is a lawyer and lives in a million-dollar house with her family. The aunt who lives near us lives in a house smaller than ours, and she and her husband make much less money than the other aunt and her husband. I’m not sure if there are any implications deeper than one aunt probably loves us more [I say this objectively, without sarcasm], but it’s interesting to think about.

My mom did exactly as I suggested, and I took my $100 to the mall with LC on Monday to do some Christmas shopping. This past semester, I’ve helped upgrade the wardrobes of approximately three guy friends, which in turn helps me become more purposeful in my gift-giving.

I bought a thin belt for my mom. I tried buying her clothing once during high school, spending a whole hour agonizing over the racks at H&M only to have her return everything a few days later. Women are picky about their clothes, I know, so I didn’t take it personally but still felt somewhat crestfallen. Thankfully, there were no complaints about the belt.

I was going to buy a pair of dress pants for my dad because he has this awful pair of brown corduroys that he wears pulled up to his waist like my grandpa, but I didn’t know his pant size. I bought him a warm beanie instead, to replace the scruffy white one I’ve seen him wearing for years.

When he unwrapped the hat, I asked him how long he’s had his other one.
“Your mom gave it to me when we were dating,” he responded.

When we were dating. When we were dating.

His words echoed in my head. “It’s THAT OLD?!” I said incredulously.
“Your mom had a matching one,” he reminisced. “It was blue with white stripes.”
“Actually, I think it was green,” my mom cut in.
“Her second sister made them for us,” dad continued.

I almost died. To think that my dad still owns and uses something from more than 20 years ago…it’s utterly amazing.

I guess my dad didn’t expect anyone to get him presents, because he bought himself a bag of stuff and left it by the side of the tree LOL. He seemed pretty pleased, even proud of his purchases as he pulled out the six t-shirts and two pants show me.
“Guess how much this one cost,” he said, holding up a Chicago Bears shirt.
“Did you go shopping with mom?” I responded.
“No,” he told me. “I went to the outlet mall in Pennsylvania on my business trip. This shirt cost less than $2!”

My mind was still reeling from the thought of my dad doing retail shopping by himself.
“Wait a minute,” I said suddenly, poking at his pile of clothes. “Did you buy two of the same shirt?”
“I bought three, actually,” he replied happily, showing me the other one. “I’m planning to replace my old t-shirts with these.”
I nodded, thinking about the raggedy shirt my dad currently sleeps in, which has holes at the seams.

When my mom had asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I replied “Nothing” [I already feel like enough of an unemployed burden], so that’s what I got. As a miracle upon miracles, Larry actually gave me something — Apples To Apples On The Go. Seriously unexpected, but it reminded me of the good old days when we played board games together instead of merely sharing the same Internet connection.

I think Larry also asked for nothing from my parents because that’s what he received too. I suppose it’s refreshing for a child not to pester his parents for an expensive Christmas gift, though they might be willing to pay that expense in order to have a son that gives respect instead of verbal abuse. When my dad took Larry to China over the summer, my relatives plastered him with birthday money, so the brand new XBox 360 & COD Black Ops that he plays was purchased with his own funds.

Larry seemed to like the two shirts I bought him from PacSun, but insists that he wears medium instead of small. UGH. He might still be growing [I mean, I hope so because he’s still shorter than me], but the progress is slow and size small clothing definitely fits him perfectly at the moment. I don’t want him to be another case of boy-who-never-wears-clothes-that-actually-fit!

After lunch, my dad and I made a sponge cake with the recipe he had enthusiastically obtained from someone at my aunt’s house last night. Both of my parents were awed by my ability to separate an egg yolk from an egg white LOL.

Whew…I spent all of yesterday writing this blog post. It’s filled with mostly daily minutia, but to me, any time I spend with my family that doesn’t involve fighting is worth recording. The closer I get to leaving this house, the more I have to cherish moments like these.

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