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

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The No Good Do-Gooder

I have long been confused by what doing “good” means. Is it giving food to someone who doesn’t have any? Is it donating your clothes to Goodwill? How about donating thousands of dollars to charity? Or flying to Africa to build wells? Aren’t all of these things good???????? From what I learned in college, the answer is Yes and No. That got me nowhere except to a greater state of confusion.

I was on the subway today, a smelly one. The stench was oozing from a teenage boy who was sleeping soundly in his seat. He had dirt on his clothes and it covered his face, neck and unwashed hair. He wore his raggedy old shoes on the wrong feet, and his sweatpants were covered with short white animal hairs. His face was red and eyes puffy as if he had cried, or was just exhausted. He had no belongings with him. At first I too was bothered by the smell like those around me with their fingers rammed up their nostrils. But then I noticed his boyish features and began to feel intense sadness for him.

Homeless people are everywhere, I know. But this boy sat right in front of me, sleeping, not noticing my rude, but heartfelt staring. I was carrying a bag of pastries and asked my dad if I should leave one for the boy. My dad said there was no need. But right before we got off the train, I left a pastry on the seat anyway. When I told my dad who hadn’t noticed, he said it wasn’t the right way to “do good.”

When I lived in NYC, I worked for a bakery that wasted a lot of food, like any food business. Sometimes I took whole cakes with me and left them on benches at Union Square or Washington Square Park where I knew a lot of homeless hung around. Sometimes I left things on the subway, hoping a hungry person would snag up the free goods. Then one day my friend made an excellent point that homeless people shouldn’t eat things like cake and cookies because it could cause long-term health problems that they can’t afford to cure. Instead, I should leave them apples and bread.

Well that got me in a bind. There I was with bags of free food and the worry that people are hungry, plus the awareness that cash isn’t always spent in the “right” places. So what was I to do with the food and my dilemma? Did I want to be the cause of someone’s diabetes, obesity and cavities? On the other hand, did I want to waste perfectly good dessert when there were starving children in Africa? 

On my way to the train, my dad and I passed a man selling a boxful of chicks. My initial reaction was ANIMAL CRUELTY! Then I thought, This farmer is just trying to make a living. And then, How cute would it be to have little yellow chickens running around my room? I could be their saviour.  My dad, being the more rational adult, pulled me away before I could whip out a few bucks that would ruin the lives of the little fur-balls forever. They might be suffering in the tiny living quarters, but they would also suffer from my neglect. These chickens are living beings, I can’t mess with that. Meanwhile, there’s the potentially hungry farmer I could’ve made a purchase from so he had some daily earnings (but he has all those chickens…) What is a gal to do in this situation? I did nothing except take this picture.

Compassion and generosity are qualities I’m proud to claim, but naive and impulsive tag along. I admit I tend to romanticize things. I’m happy I have a “good” heart and optimism, but my friends and family are right when they say I am naive. The world seem a lot simpler to me than it really is. This obstructs my ability to think holistically and do effectively, and instead leads me to act impulsively. It would be awesome if I could solve all the world’s problems. But I can’t. Nobody can. I’ve given up on that dream already, but I still believe one person can make a difference, and that making a difference to one person is still “good”.

But how? Was leaving a pastry for someone who might not even eat it or is too afraid to take it what I should’ve done to “help out” this kid? Is handing out dollar bills to homeless children who might work for abusive bosses going to benefit them or hurt them in the long-run? Here’s the question of the century: is it better to do something than nothing at all? These are the daily conundrums I have to deal with in my head. You should see what big ideas I’ve got stored upstairs. Anyway, that’s why I’ve decided to go to grad school. Maybe Professor Wong or Doctor Chan can tell me if I should’ve left a cupcake or an apple, or nothing at all.


The End of Spring Festival. Hallelujah!

Today is Lantern Festival, the 15th day in the first lunar month and another one of China’s million holidays. Best of all, it marks the end of Spring Festival which means all the droning sounds of fireworks that reverberate through my bones can legally stop after tonight. Thank goodness. I’m tired of feeling my stomach turned inside out from sudden BOOM!s that explode in front, next to or behind me. Sure, fireworks are pretty. Pretty annoying. They’re nice from a distance, or on the 4th of July which happens only once a year. But these incessant explosions resonate through my neighborhood–and the entire country–and resemble sounds of what I imagine would be a war zone.

Fireworks are traditionally used in China to ward off evil spirits, but for a country that has been bombed in cruel quantity I’m surprised the explosions don’t cause a psychological fury among the older generations who lived through those years. Instead, it is probably more of a nuisance, or more likely they have drowned out the ruckus. As this is my first Spring Festival here, I’m still getting used to all the noise, but I can’t say I like it very much. The thunderous sounds startle me to the point where I feel a slight heart attack coming on. I don’t like thunder. I also don’t like fire, and fireworks cause fires all the time.

One guy was blinded, several homes caught on fire because sparks got in them (you can set off fireworks literally anywhere, like right outside my window), an outdoor market selling fireworks exploded. All shitty ways to start a new year. Hate to be Negative Nancy here people, but fireworks are dangerous. And they’re detrimental to the already hazardous air quality here. I’d like to live a little longer. No more fireworks, PLEASE! 

Here are some photos I took in between my complaining. I have to admit it is pretty cool to see fireworks from where I’m sitting, but my sanity can only handle so much.

Firecrackers

Yeah. Imagine hearing that every second of your day. For 2 weeks straight. Mmhm. That’s what I thought.

Here's what I see walking down the street towards home.

View from balcony in Chongqing

Right next to us...mmmmhmmm that's how fires start.

Looks like a fire is starting already!!

I’ve posted some videos so you can feel the agony my ears are going through but also see the admittedly beautiful views from my window and rooftop.

(Don’t make fun. I laugh like a moronic hyena. A doofus. I sound happy in these videos because I was excited to see fireworks up close and I’m easily excitable. Obviously that enthusiasm has since faded.)

(Don’t make fun. I yell for “mommy” in the following video. Yes, I admit it. I still call my mom mommy and my dad daddy. I’ve been doing it since I could speak, and therefore got used to it and it stuck. I’ll probably still be calling them mommy and daddy when I’m a mommy. Deal with it.)

(Those of you reading this blog freshly published probably can’t see the last video because it’s taking FOREVER to upload onto youtube. Check back in 2 hours!! Apologies.)


It’s your fault I have puffy, dark circles under my eyes. All the time.

I blame you all, yes you bloggers. I blame you for the puffy, dark circles under my eyes with which I walk into the judgmental world on the daily. It’s your fault because you keep me up till morning on a nightly basis. It’s your fault I can’t focus on anything else because I’m reading your blogs. Laughing at your insanely witty humor. Crying (which makes the puffiness even puffier, thanks a lot) tears of sadness for some of the people you write about and tears of joy because of your compassion to listen to and share their stories when nobody else will. Nodding in agreement with your brilliant theories and opinions. Shaking my head to the absurd and insensitive comments people leave in the New York Times (this is separate from you bloggers, but seriously, people say some f%^ed up ignorant s#*t).

It’s 2:46 a.m. and my eyes are barely open. My VPN clock says I’ve been signed on for 9 hours and 20 minutes. I’ve been back and forth from the computer, but still, that’s more than a full-time job.

Well, guess I should continue this routine tomorrow. Sigh… Looks like there’s no cure for my puffy, dark circles. (I would take a picture to show you but I’m too embarrassed.)

It’s 2:53 now. I’m a slow editor.

Goodnight! (Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to some–probably most–of you!)

2:54.


<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Warning: I’m about to get cheesy.

I just wanted to say how much I love, appreciate and admire the individuals I have met on WordPress. I never thought my blog would last this long, but my readers — strangers, friends and new friends — keep me at it, and I am so grateful to you all for keeping me company during this transitional phase in my life.

As I have complained again and again — and you’re probably sick of hearing it — making friends has been quite rough for me in China. However, coming home to my computer and finding new comments and “likes” demonstrates another kind of friendship that I used to doubt (gotta love the digital age!). Meeting people online has always sounded a little strange to me, but the WordPress community has proven me wrong. Knowing that people read and sometimes even care about what I have to say is so reassuring that 1), my life is actually pretty interesting (no matter how much I insist it isn’t), 2) I am still capable of making new friends in new places, and 3) there are so many good people in the world!

I realize this is very cheesy, and I get this way sometimes a lot, but I’m going away for two weeks to celebrate Chinese New Years and Spring Festival in Chongqing where I expect to be internet-less. And the only thing that keeps running through my head is, How will I keep up with everyone’s blogs? How will I stay in contact with my WP friends? I’m going to miss them so much!! I know, I know. Only 2 weeks. Actually, less, just 10 days. But see!? That’s how inseparable I am with you all!

(My parents hate it because once I turn my computer on, that’s where I’m glued for the next several hours. I sacrifice the size of my bum for you all. That’s how much I love you.)

See you in 10 days! Until then,

HUGS

and KISSES TO YOU ALL!!!

<3,

Emily

 


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.