Tag: halfie stuff (Page 2 of 6)

Salt, mountains, light

1.

Sizzle and scent. Warm, chewy layers of dough and oil. The salty notes of scallions.

I have dreamed of this. Literally and figuratively, I have dreamed of walking down the side street by my jiu jiu’s house and buying fresh cong you bing from a street vendor. Now we’re finally here, standing in the small crowd around the stall, waiting for our order to be filled.

I watch the woman spread a pancake over the flat round griddle. Little drifts of steam rise from the belly of her cart, and the dough hisses as it burns. She slides a spatula under the pancake and flips it. More hissing, more steam.

People press in close, talking loudly. I let the unfamiliar words sail over me. They melt into the voices of shoppers walking up and down the street, perusing the other stalls, and mingle with the low hum of traffic from the main avenue nearby.

When our pancakes are ready, the woman hands them to us, folded like crepes and wrapped in waxy paper. We take them back to my family’s dining table, and we bite into the moment of truth. As our tongues dive into flavor and texture, we can’t help smiling. 

It’s even better than I remember. Even better than I dreamed of.

2.

When we spot the “restaurant” and decide to give it a try, he is skeptical. The place is little more than a shack on the side of the mountain. A cinder block structure with no front wall, just wide cement patios and a roof of corrugated metal. The open-air kitchen is all stone and soot.

But he is too hungry and uncomfortable to protest, so we go in.

My yi zhang orders who-knows-what for everyone to share. While our food is being cooked, we find plastic chairs and wooden stools stacked in a corner, and we arrange them around a table for ourselves. Another group settles in — college students, maybe — and a pair of cyclists after that. Suddenly the place seems lively and warm, rather than shabby and strange.

We chat in a halting mix of Mandarin and English. We enjoy the breeze that blows in damp and green.

Dishes are brought to our table as soon as they are ready. Pork fried rice and three different kinds of vegetables, all homegrown nearby. The food is simple, unassuming, and delicious.

We eat ravenously. We devour the mountains.

3.

The night market begins with a bright red archway, which is doing its best impression of a Buddhist temple gate. But neon lights betray the imitation. Everything is flashy and loud, blaring against the ink-blue sky and the sleeping city.

Like a school of fish, we slowly shuffle along with the throng. Our eyes scan each booth, searching for a snack or a trinket that we might enjoy. Shoes, toys, cell phone cases. Stinky tofu, crab legs, oyster omelet. Eventually he settles on strawberry juice — fresh, but watery — and grilled corn on the cob with spicy sauce. I indulge in an egg tart, the custard creamy and rich on my tongue.

We came here to satisfy our appetites. Not just for food, but for life. For an experience we can taste, and take home in our hearts. So much has been out of our control — but this? This chaos is ours.

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A long way from home

1.

We are two old friends catching up in a busy café. The smell of fresh bread wafts over the lunch crowd, everyone abuzz with pent-up energy from the rainy day and waning holidays. My friend is so tall that I feel like a child sitting across from him. But I listen attentively as he describes the various heartaches and struggles he has faced over the past four years.

Needing distance and a change, he has decided to leave our hometown and strike out on his own. I’m proud of him for making such a bold and difficult decision. I’m excited for him and all the new things he will experience. But I’m also sad that it has come to this, that he couldn’t find what he needed in the place where we grew up, with the people who were supposed to nurture him. He’s strong for all the wrong reasons.

Now he’s taking that strength and heading out a long way from home.

2.

When I left home over ten years ago, it was for college, not forever. At least, not intentionally forever. Now, I don’t know. I don’t know when — if — I will go back. I’m not opposed to living there again, but I’m not drawn to it either. I guess only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it’s harder than I expected to live far away from my parents. I worry about them a lot. About their age and their health. About their house and their cars. I worry about them working too hard and not eating very well. Most of all, I worry about whether or not they’re happy. And I worry about them worrying about me.

If you could put all of our worries into physical form and lay them end-to-end, maybe they would cover the the hundreds of miles that separate me and my parents. Maybe that’s their purpose, in a way. To bridge the gap. To connect us. To keep us intertwined, in each other’s hearts and minds, even when we’re far apart.

3.

This year, my mother and I will return to Taiwan for the first time in over a decade. I’m excited, and I’m scared. I can’t wait to see the teeming capital, taste fresh scallion pancake from a street vendor, smell the damp green mountains and the smoky sulfur pits. But what if Taiwan doesn’t live up to my treasured memories? Or worse: What if I don’t live up to Taiwan’s expectations of me?

I don’t know if everyone has these kinds of complicated feelings about their grandmotherland. I only know that I’ve been battling a sense of inadequacy my whole life, when it comes to my Asian heritage. Yet at the same time, it’s such a strong part of me. My values, my personality, my experiences. I don’t speak much Mandarin, but I sense there’s a deeper sort of language that I share with the place where my mother was born.

Maybe going back will prove that. Maybe not. I have to remind myself that either way, that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about visiting with family, both living and dead. It’s about walking the same streets that my mother walked as a child, and listening to her stories. It’s about introducing my husband to one of my favorite places on earth. It’s about reacquainting myself with the part of my heart that lies an ocean away.

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Week in review (Dec 14, 2014)

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  • I actually bought 1989 like three weeks ago, but I forgot to include it in a Week in Review post at that time. Whatever. It takes me a while to figure out how I feel about songs/albums anyway. At this point — after many, many listens — I can safely say that 1989 is pretty good and a lot of fun. I really admire Taylor’s artistic instincts, and her desire to push herself into new, unfamiliar territory. (That said, I think Red was the sweet spot for her, both lyrically and musically. I’d love to see her return to that style/sound someday.) The only 1989 songs that I don’t really care for are “How You Get the Girl” and “Wonderland.” My absolute favorite is “You Are In Love.” Taylor wrote it about the relationship between Jack Antonoff and Lena Dunham (who are her friends), and it’s just so stripped down and genuine — and reminds me of my relationship with Andy — that it hits me right in the feels every time.
  • I’m really into PT Serif right now. Yes, I am a font nerd. I’m also a pen nerd, and fonts are the computer equivalent of pens. I still remember doing my homework in high school with a rainbow of Pentel RSVP pens (.5 mm). There’s just something about a good writing instrument that makes you want to write more, and good fonts are the same way.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)

  • At long last, I got to read BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE, the third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. Stiefvater’s writing is so magical — and not just because she writes fantasy. She has an amazing way with characters and setting and mood. The second book (THE DREAM THIEVES) is still my favorite in the series so far, but this one was great. I won’t say too much about it, for fear of spoilers, but I will say that I was moved to tears by the courtroom scene. More than anything, these books are about the bonds of friendship — one of my favorite themes.
  • Last but not least, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching Taiwan. I’m going back next year for the first time in over a decade, and I’m a mess of emotions about it. That’s probably a whole post on its own. For now I’ll just give a shoutout to two tools that I’m using to improve my (toddler-level) Mandarin:
    • Chinese Skill, an app modeled on Duolingo (which was started at Carnegie Mellon!)
    • “Love Myself or You,” a cute little Taiwanese drama about two chefs and a lot of misunderstandings (which I am watching via Drama Fever)

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Rethinking failure

In a recent post, Chuck Wendig encourages writers to “fail without fear.”

We don’t learn a lot through success by itself. That sounds strange, but it’s true. I throw a basketball at a hoop and – swish — first time in? I don’t know what the hell I did. But I get one shot in and nine missed, I start to see how I can do that better. And suddenly, I start making more baskets. We make sense of our efforts through failure.

Failure is a word/concept that I think many of us are afraid of — but what if we just thought of it as a code word for rough drafts and imperfection? What if failure became a temporary stop on the road to success, instead of a final destination?

The other day, I had to get something engraved. (A trophy for Andy’s fantasy football league. Yes, they are that dorky about it.) I ran around town looking for a shop that would do this little one-off job, and finally found a really nice guy who was happy to take care of it right away. While he set up the machine, we made small talk. When he learned that I was a halfie, he started spitting out Chinese phrases he had picked up during his time working with Asian doctors in a laboratory. Ni hao ma. Ji cao fan. Xie xie.

His pronunciation wasn’t great, but he didn’t care. He wanted to connect with me, and he wanted to be corrected. He wanted to learn and improve.

Meanwhile, when I go to Chinese restaurants, I’m embarrassed that I can’t order in my mother’s native tongue. When I meet Spanish-speakers, I always downplay my fluency, because I know I’m rusty and don’t want to look stupid.

But I didn’t think this guy was stupid at all. I thought he was brave. I admired his hunger for knowledge and experience. His wide-open spirit. His willingness to embrace imperfection and to fail without fear.

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#WeNeedDiverseBooks (and diverse everything else too)

In case you missed it, the YA community is spearheading a charge for increased diversity in contemporary literature. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is amazing, and you can find out how to participate here.

For my part, I’m tweeting and re-tweeting, and I’m writing diverse stories, and I’m now (as ever) sharing my own personal thoughts and experiences.

Last night, I caught a rerun of the 60s television show Bewitched, which I used to love as a kid. The hijinks of a witch and her ad exec husband — what’s not to like? Best of all, they had a kid. A HALFIE kid. Like me. And even though little Tabitha didn’t do a whole lot in the story, I adored her. She was one of the few “biracial” characters I knew growing up.

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Other favorites included Evie, the half-alien star of Out of This World, and Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was half-Betazed. Noticing a pattern, anyone?

There’s more. My favorite Disney princess was Belle, a brown-haired, brown-eyed book lover, and my favorite anime character was Sailor Jupiter, a brown-haired, brown-eyed tomboy. No matter that they were French or Japanese, respectively. I was looking for myself in stories, and these were the closest resemblances that I could find. Not precisely right, but better than nothing.

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Now imagine a kid who can’t see herself anywhere. Not even in these pale approximations. The idea of that honestly makes me cry.

We need diverse books — and movies, and music, and teachers, and business leaders, and politicians, and everything else. We need them, and we shouldn’t have to justify why. The reasons are pretty evident.

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