Babytalk: A Phenomenon!

Does every couple develop a dialect/accent/language/voice of their own? Particularly babytalk? Is it necessary for lovers to speak to one another in babytalk in order for the other to understand? Do they think it disguises what they’re saying from others around them even though it’s a universal language?

I haven’t been in a relationship in a while and I can’t remember if my ex and I had a secret language. Yes, sometimes I spoke to him in a higher, goo-goo-ga-ga-ly pitch asking things like, “Do you really love me? Do you REAAAAAAAALLLLLLY love me? How much? THIS much? Okay okay, I wuv you tooo!” I’m exaggerating, but it seems like all couples have a special way of communicating such insecurities. But must we talk like babies to do so??

I have a friend who-shall-not-be-named who shares a special dialect of English/Irish/babytalk with her boyfriend that is mostly used, from my observations, when talking about their feelings. If their conversation transitions into something more serious, like about work and school, they use regular English. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very cute accent they share, but I’m still curious as to why their voices digress to infant-hood when wishing each other good night?

Another friend who-shall-not-be-named seems to have permanently engaged babytalk. Her boyfriend has adapted to this language very well, and I dare say 75% of their conversations (at least around me) are spoken in this obnoxious pitch. To get in on the dialogue, I had to adjust the level of my own voice to match theirs. If this offers any explanation to the phenomenon, they are Chinese, and from what I’ve seen on Chinese television, babytalk is commonly used by young women.


In fact, the baby is so darn cute these days that adult women not only emulate them in speech, but also in habit. At a restaurant several weeks ago, my cousins and I were appalled to see a 20-something Chinese woman suck on a baby bottle!!!!! Filled with milk!! In public!!! All the while she was taking photos of herself with puckered lips and too much hair in her face. The woman sitting across from her, presumably her mother, was unmoved. My cousins and I, on the other hand, oh we were moved. We were moved by the way she couldn’t actually suck the milk out of the nipple so she unscrewed the top and sipped from the rim. She’s an adult after all! 

It just occurred to me that my friends who have been in really long relationships – the married type and the soon-to-be married type – including my parents and my friends’ parents, do not break out in special languages/accents/dialects/babytalk with their partners. I wonder if it’s because they grow out of it, just like babies do? Or maybe because they master keeping it an actual secret? Or because couples who have been together for so long no longer need to express their feelings through absurd voices?

Like I said, I have not been in a relationship in a while and can’t remember what it’s like communicating with a lover. But I hope when the next boyfriend rolls along, we won’t confess our love for each other like overgrown babies. At least not in front of other people.

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Family Portraits (and a Petition)

While I was having fun with my new iPhone, I came across the Hubba Hubba app that so accurately captured the finest features of my family. My mom, a.k.a. Goody Two-Shoes, thinks Daddy-O looks like Saddam Hussein, but I think she’s crazy because Daddy-O’s got a heart of gold. “Sweet Mama” (that’s me) doesn’t quite fit my image, but that’s because it takes time to grow into the title and I’m still young! By the way, don’t be fooled by Goody Two-Shoes’ name folks. Once she finds out I posted that photo  online for the world to see, she’s going to pick that feather from her hat and shove it up who-knows-where! No, no, I was just joshin’. She wouldn’t do that. I’m an only child! Anyway, that’s my family in a nutshell!

Another thing now that I have your attention (hopefully), while I’m here downloading useless (but fun) apps on my iphone, tens of thousands of other Chinese people are suffering from exposure to toxic chemicals, losing their hands, and even attempting suicide from the horrible working conditions of Apple, Inc. factories. Like most people I’m sure, I was totally unaware of this fact, and to be honest, the thought to ask where my iPhone and Mac laptop came from didn’t even occur to me.  While the American version of the iPhone might say “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China” on the back, my Chinese version somehow forgot the “Assembled in China” part. Oops. How clever! The Chinese 1% doesn’t want anything Made in China. They want Made in America/Italy/France/Japan/Anywhere-but-China, and Steve Jobs and gang knew just this!

Now, I’m not asking anybody to discard their iPhones and iPads–I’m certainly not. What I’m suggesting, and it’s not a lot for you to do, is to click here and sign the petition to “Apple: to protect workers making iPhones in Chinese factories”. As you may have seen in the news, Foxconn, one of Apple’s main suppliers has already increased their workers’ salaries (probably to the salary it should’ve been in the first place) showing some success in the case. Apple is obviously not the only corporation that exploits its workers. However, with Apple being one of the most powerful industries in the world, it should do more–and quickly–to demand safe working and living conditions and fair wages.

I was taxed up-the-butt for this darned ol’ thing. That extra cash should go straight to the pockets of the overworked factory laborers, not California.

The Petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/apple-ceo-tim-cook-protect-workers-making-iphones-in-chinese-factories


I’m Back!

For the past 2 weeks I have been visiting Grandma He and paternal family in Chongqing to celebrate 春節 (Chūnjié), Spring  Festival/Chinese New Year  (Year of the Dragon!). This was my first Spring Festival, a 15-day celebration (1/15-2/6), in the motherland. In the States, this holiday meant little to me but huge potlucks with our Chinese family friends in Boston, an annual event that sadly diminished as I got older.

Grandma He, the cutest most grandma-ey-ist grandma on earth!

The spirit of Spring Festival is equivalent to the entire holiday season back home which explains why the spirit I was missing around Christmas was far but made up for. Red lanterns hung everywhere, businesses offered special 春節 discounts, train tickets sold out, a week off from work, traffic cleared up (AMAZING), bags packed and most everybody was back home with their families, and I with mine.

Spring Festival has a lot of traditions that I don’t think my family keeps to. But the ones we did maintain this year included eating a Reunion Dinner,  cringing as we watched the annual Spring Festival Evening Broadcast (6 hours of flashy, cheesy music, dance, and comedy) on TV, exchanging red envelopes ($$$!), eating “rice dumplings” filled with black sesame (nom nom), and setting off fireworks (terrifying). I read in the China Daily that at least 70% Chinese people gain weight over this break, and according to my scale, this is accurate.

Right next to our balcony!

We did a whole lot of sitting around this holiday, but that’s part of the tradition: being at home. However, when I wasn’t at home learning how to knit socks with my grandma, stifling her dogs with my love and affection, munching on snacks, playing games on my phone, sniffling because of my cold, and freezing my buttocks off because there’s no indoor heating in the south, I was out and about with my parents, throwing ourselves in the mix of massive crowds. My uncle, a Chinese history professor turned businessman, took us to several awesome places I never knew existed including Dazu Mountain, Longxing Ancient Town, the former Communist Party headquarters in Chongqing, and Baigongguan (Kuomintang’s cruel prison for Communists in the 1940s). We even took a 2 hour train ride to Chengdu, the city with the best food–and pandas–in the world! Don’t you worry, I’ll write more about that trip in another post.

If there were a sudden natural disaster, we would all be doomed. (Photo taken at Ciqikou)

Sakyamuni Entering State of Nirvana at Dazu Mountain

Longxing Ancient Town: Mahjohng Haven

A room in the Communist Party headquarters (photographs were not allowed so don't tell!)

Cave for Interrogation at Baigongguan

Me and Yoshitomo Nara's Little Red Riding Hood at Chongqing's Three Gorges Museum

I’m back in Beijing now, 10 degrees colder outside but infinitely warmer and more comfortable indoors, and fireworks are still exploding (quite an annoyance). I have many, many more photos to show you but I’ll post them in installments to keep you comin’ back for more!! I will, however, leave you with this:

My dad.


My Identity Crisis

Chinese people call me ABC, American Born Chinese; Americans call me Chinese American. “Twinkie” is what I and my closest friends call me (you know, yellow on the outside, white on the inside). Growing up, I didn’t want any of these identities. I wanted to be white like most of my classmates. I wanted a big house with a furnished basement, a backyard and a golden retriever; not a 3rd floor apartment with a live-in grandma who slept below me on our bunk-bed and who snored so loud I used to climb down my bunk to tickle her feet so she would stop snoring for a precious second. (Wait, I had to edit my post to add this: I love my grandma!)

In elementary and middle school, I secretly resented being Chinese. I refused to go to Chinese school every Sunday like most Chinese kids. I spoke only English to my handful of Chinese friends, and together we would make fun of other Chinese people. I never hung out with the Chinese kids at school, nor did I join the Asian Pacific American Club. I had nothing against them, I just didn’t want to be a part of them.

A college dorm-mate left me a surprise on my computer one day. Thanks for the reminder!!

Aside from Chinese holiday gatherings, growing up in a home that smelled like mothballs, eating rice everyday, and speaking Chinese at home, I was totally Americanized. I mean, I am American. Right?

My identity crisis hit really hard when I started settling-in in China. To Americans I look obviously Asian (many can’t figure out what kind of Asian I am) but to Chinese folks I look foreign/mysterious/Chinese-but-not-that-Chinese/different/mixed. A lot of Chinese people think I am half-Chinese half-white. That flatters me, but also troubles me because they don’t regard me as Chinese so I am treated differently. Bargaining, for example, is tough because vendors jack up the price when they see me in case I am foreign. My funny unidentifiable accent and nose ring don’t help. In America my nose ring was cool, in China I’m a bull on the loose.

Internally I identity with the foreigners living in China and get overly-excited when I see one (when I was young and fearless, I would run up to any white-looking individual and tell them I was American and could speak English), but they don’t see the bond with me because outwardly I appear Chinese. The one time I actually was approached by someone, I startled him and he ran off. My newly acquired inability/obvious discomfort/awkwardness in socializing with strangers makes the process of making friends verrrry difficult in this country.

The thing that confuses me is I am Chinese because Chinese blood runs through my veins (a fact I grew to be proud of). But I was born on American soil so my nationality is American. I used to tell people I was American when they asked me “what” I was, but today, I think it’s weird when people ask Chinese-looking people (like me) “what” they are and they respond “American.” When people ask me that question now, I don’t know how to answer. Even my salary reflects my identity crisis: my salary is higher than my Chinese coworkers but less than my white English-teaching counterparts. I AM SO CONFUSED!

It’s not that I don’t feel like I belong here. I believe I belong everywhere! I felt like I belonged in Bushwick, Brooklyn where people thought I was the owner of the local laundromat, and when people called me “Jackie Chan” in the streets of Barcelona and Marrakech. When I was staying overnight near Erg Chebbi, one of Morocco’s sand dunes, the man who worked at the lodge asked me if I was a girl from the neighboring town! I belong. I just don’t know how to identify myself.

In these past few weeks, I’ve more or less come to terms with my exhausting identity crisis, perhaps a first step in “finding myself.” From now on I should just consider myself a unique individual. Maybe that’s the answer I’ll give the next time someone asks me, “So what are you? I mean, where do you come from?”

“I am a unique individual. I come from nowhere in particular. And yourself?”


“The Classical Music Revolution of China”

I just read an editorial piece in the New York Times about classical music and it’s place among the Occupy Wall Street movement that got me thinking about my own family. “From the Medici family and Ludwig of Bavaria to Andrew Carnegie and David H. Koch, classical music, like other performing arts, has long depended on the 1 percent,” writes Anthony Tommasini. This is not so far off in China either, at least not nowadays.

The arts are an important component to China’s cultural inheritance. Mao himself was a poet and a lover of music — granted, the only music allowed during his regime were “Red Songs” with lyrics from his own poetry, but it was music nonetheless. Classical music was not introduced to China until the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership. A professor from the Central Conservatory of Music had written Deng a letter requesting permission to enroll students after a 10-year dry spell during the Cultural Revolution–a timely request as Deng was set on modernizing China, opening doors to western influence, and consequently classical music. Permission granted,  17,285 people lined up for the college entrance examination. Narrowed down to 105 total enrollments, my mom was one of 20 singers from all of China to join the ranks. This was the first wave of a new revolution — what I call the “Classical Music Revolution of China.”

My dad followed my mom’s footsteps shortly after, and post graduation, followed her to the United States where she pursued her career in opera, and had me. Growing up,  classical music and the arts in general, surrounded me. (I am writing this post while my mom’s student is roaring Italian lyrics downstairs.) Our family friends were literally all involved in the arts, and while I dabbled in it, I did not end up a musician–a great mystery and shame to many.

My mom as CioCio Sun in Madame Butterfly.

In the west, my mom could study music with American and European teachers, while in the east, the field was still developing. I remember as a child touring around the States watching her perform in Madame Butterfly, La Boheme and Carmen, among others. She also traveled all over the world, singing operas in various European languages. Her career flourished in the west, where opera was an occasion for dressing up and showing off wealth and culture. In the wake of rising tuitions and increasing economic disparity, this is one of Occupy Wall Street’s arguments; performing arts are elitist.

There is no doubt that classical music has historically been limited to the upper class, but as Tommasini points out in his article, there is today an abundance of free and affordable performing arts events throughout New York City.  Similarly in China, attending a performance at the National Center for the Performing Arts is not a cheap ordeal. But there are events scattered throughout Beijing that are accessible to those who are curious or interested. The school my mom works for (the high school attached to the Central Conservatory of Music), for example, often puts on free performances for the public. Too bad the turnouts remain to be low.

Many of my mom’s students come from the wealthiest of families — sons and daughters of leaders in the coal industry, an army surgeon, TV/movie stars, political figures, and various successful businesspeople. This is a major difference between music students today and music students from my parents’ generation. My parents were extremely poor when they began schooling, as were all families during that time, but again, classical music was just a budding interest then. Now that the west has full-blown influence over Chinese society and culture (much to Hu Jingtao’s dismay), classical music has become a popular career path. However, only those who can afford the education can find a place in that field, unless you are blessed with a voice that penetrates the heart and soul of the judges at your audition.

I completely agree with Occupy Wall Street protestors that “the main issue regarding performing arts institutions is not inaccessibility but insularity,” because as I said, you have to have the funds to pursue this career. I have questioned my parents’ morality for working for government-run and arguably profit-oriented schools, but after having witnessed their frustrations, the dead ends, and watching my mom teach tirelessly, my mind changed. My parents’ passion for music and grounded dedication to their students are reason enough for my admiration (besides being their only child of course). And from personal encounters with these students, they’re not so bad. Sure, some are snobby teenagers with brand name clothing and a private apartment, but where in the world are there not such people? They are like any other child striving to achieve their dreams as musicians–just like hip hop artists, baseball players, doctors and lawyers–who happen to come from the 1% (most who work their butts off to support their child’s dreams).

There are  many things I find wrong with Chinese society (as you may have determined from my previous posts), but one thing I have come to appreciate during my time here is the cultural fervor. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that many Chinese artists are suppressed, exiled, jailed, because I am lucky to have an outlet to both eastern and western news, but just knowing that they exist excites me because I sense the kindling of a counterrevolution. And knowing that my parents are part of this movement — whether they see it as that or not — makes me very proud to be their daughter.

Life is definitely different now that my parents are classical-music-big-shots as opposed to lower- to middle- class immigrants, but I will never consider our family elitist. We are just a loving bunch of teachers committed to passing on what we know to whoever will listen.


What it Means to Be Born in the Year of the Dragon

Well so it is! 2012, year of the dignified Dragon (and the end of the world?!?!), a much sought after Chinese zodiac sign that symbolizes power, strength and good luck–so badass the Emperor of China used it to symbolize his imperial power. Parents have long been planning their pregnancies around this new year so that their children can take after me, a proud Dragoness of 1988.

I always brag about being born in the year of the dragon because Chinese people always respond excitedly to it. Now that I have lived through 2 cycles oblivious to what being a dragon child actually means, I decided it was time I find out how it defines me. So, like any other credible academic, I googled “chinese zodiac dragon” and found  www.chinesezodiac.com at the top of a long list of results. Below, I seek to understand how my life has been subliminally shaped by the most superior Chinese Zodiac sign in the world (I don’t actually believe it’s superior, but it’s up there)!

Personality

Website: Occupying the 5th position in the Chinese Zodiac, the Dragon is the mightiest of the signs. Dragons symbolize such character traits as dominance and ambition. Dragons prefer to live by their own rules and if left on their own, are usually successful. They’re driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. They’re passionate in all they do and they do things in grand fashion. Unfortunately, this passion and enthusiasm can leave Dragons feeling exhausted and interestingly, unfulfilled.

While Dragons frequently help others, rarely will they ask for help. Others are attracted to Dragons, especially their colorful personalities, but deep down, Dragons prefer to be alone. Perhaps that is because they’re most successful when working alone. Their preference to be alone can come across as arrogance or conceitedness, but these qualities aren’t applicable. Dragons have tempers that can flare fast!

Me: Okay, I consider myself “mighty” but I’m neither dominant nor that ambitious. I have dreams, but I’ll find excuses for why I’m not carrying them out. I do like to live by my own rules, but I always credited that to my being an only child. As for challenges and risks, I’ll take them if I’m feeling spontaneous, but I won’t break the law (not big ones). Passion and enthusiasm only surface for certain occasions, like my birthday or a new love interest. But, as the website profoundly indicates, I end up exhausted, unfulfilled and oh so regretful.

As my friend Jett suggested I put on my OkCupid profile (did I really just publicize this?!), I am generous and compassionate. I do tend to help others, like give up my seat on the subway and donate a dollar here or there, but nothing of “grand fashion.” I don’t disagree that I have a colorful personality, which I take to mean happy, upbeat, fun, etc, but I also have a dark side. I will lash out if you so urge me.

Health

Website: Considering their hard-working nature, Dragons are healthy overall. They do get stressed and suffer from periodic tension/headaches, likely because they take so many risks. Dragons could benefit from incorporating mild activity into their lives. Yoga or walking would be good as these activities can work both their minds and their bodies.

Me: I had a horrible headache yesterday! Must be all the risks that I’ve been taking–quitting my full-time job (for part-time), eating sour noodles (gone bad), and buying Christmas presents at the very last minute. It is on my New Years Resolutions to exercise more. In fact, my parents and I did a good deal of walking/shopping after dinner today. I’m off to a good start!

Career

Website: Dragons prefer leading to being led. Jobs that allow them to express their creativity are good choices. Some good careers include: inventor, manager, computer analyst, lawyer, engineer, architect, broker, and sales person.

Me: It’s true. I hate being led; that 9-6 job was awful. I prefer teaching, where I make all the rules. “Teaching” isn’t on the list of “some good careers include,” but the website can’t be right about everything. I am definitely not cut out to being a computer analyst (I can’t analyze anything that deeply), a manager (I’m too nice, people would walk all over me and I’d be left without any managing power), and certainly not a lawyer (I don’t do public speaking). I am a good sales person though.

Relationships

Website: Dragons will give into love, but won’t give up their independence. Because they have quick, sometimes vengeful tempers, their partners need to be tough-skinned. Dragons enjoy others who are intriguing, and when they find the right partners, they’ll usually commit to that person for life.

Me: Oy, I give up my independence too easily. I fall into “love traps” that lead me to become vengeful if the other person does not live up to my standards. I will, however, commit to whoever it is I’m with–maybe too much so that it drives men boys away. I read on Thought Catalog that guys are attracted to flakes. I guess I’ll add “be flaky” to my list of “Resolutions.”

Dragons and the 5 elements

Website:

Metal Dragons – Years 1940 and 2000

Metal strengthens this already strong sign. Metal Dragons are more determined and they’ll fight for what they believe in. They enjoy the company of those who feel mighty enough to challenge their beliefs. They’re true leaders and usually find plenty of others willing to follow.

Water Dragons – Years 1952 and 2012

Water calms the Dragon’s fire. Water Dragons are able to see things from other points of view. They don’t have the need to always be right. Their decisions, if well-researched, are usually better since they allow other’s to become involved.

Wood Dragons – 1904 and 1964

Wood Dragons also are willing to entertain the opinions of others. Their artistic side is strong, and Wood Dragons enjoy being creative and innovative. They get along with others, but will always be the dominating force.

Fire Dragons – 1916 and 1976

A Fire Dragon’s emotions can flare instantly. Fire Dragons put themselves on pedestals, and because they react quickly and recklessly, they sometimes make wrong decisions. Fire Dragons need to slow down and keep their tempers in check as that’s when they’re best.

Earth Dragons – Years 1928 and 1988 (this is me!)

More rooted in the ground, Earth Dragons make better decisions because they act more rationally. Earth Dragons are level-headed and able to control their behaviors. They’re more supportive of others, but they prefer being admired by others.

Me: Ahh! “More rooted in the ground” — “Grounding My Roots” This website is genius! Although, I can’t say I make rational decisions because I’m not level-headed and have trouble controlling my behavior in love, life and at the dinner-table. I will support you, friend, but I also want you to admire me because I’m just that awesome.

Well, that explains it. I’ve got my red underwear on (for good luck–it’s tradition!) ready to rock n’ roll into the next 364 days.

The Christmas Grouch

I woke up a real Christmas grouch.

I know how you feel!

From having to work at 8:30 a.m. to misplacing my itouch and prickling my finger fumbling through my bag in search of it (don’t worry, I found it), to doing a mad-Christmas-gift-dash in the busiest part of the city, to coming home to an empty house, you might understand why I was not feeling the spirit.

Christmas Crowd

Yesterday was more eventful. To start the day off pleasantly, I received a package all the way from Boston from my friend Grace, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more awesome.

!!!!!!!!!!!

I requested that if my friends ever send me anything in the mail, it be themselves. So, thoughtful as Grace is, she sent me a mini-cardboard cutout of herself (to the right of the cookies) on top of the best box of cookies ever, a life-size Santa hat and a children’s book which I’ve already read twice to my students (Grace and I have a tradition of giving each other children’s books as gifts–I think that’s pretty cool). It’s hard to beat those gifts, especially when my students came over later with gift-wrapped fruits and a can of cola. I was so confused.

Rather than calling Christmas Eve “Christmas Eve,” the Chinese refer to it as Silent Night, or literally translated from Chinese, Peace Night (pinganye, 平安夜). The tradition–I now understand–is to give apples (pingguo, 苹果) to wish someone peacefulness. I also got an orange (juzi, 橘子) to symbolize good fortune and a can of Pepsi (kele, 可乐) to symbolize happiness. Clever, but also a waste of plastic–oh negative Nancy, it’s the thought that counts!

As for Christmas Day, my spirits were eventually lifted when my aunt and uncle arrived from Kunming, and we rushed off to catch my cousin perform in a typical Chinese “gala”–the kind of event you see on any Chinese TV channel–which consists of food, drinks and live performances. We ended the night eating hot pot, not exactly Christmasy, but it was shared with family. If I recall correctly, this is the first Christmas since junior year of high school that I’ve spent with my parents because they were always either working or were already in China. Growing up, I mostly celebrated Christmas with family friends, which–while I consider them family too–was always still a bit lonely.

Well, Christmas flew by this year; it came and went. But this is just the beginning of the holiday season! I expect Chinese New Years to be explosively festive (lots of fireworks involved I hear)!

Any-Cindy-Lou-Who, it’s time for bed. Stuffed to the brim, it’s going to be hard to fall asleep tonight…

To end another Christmas, I leave you with a classic. Wham!

Merry Christmas (to those who celebrate)! Happy Holidays!