Brooklyn, The Place Where People Say Hello

I have been in New York City for 2 weeks now, visiting friends and places I’ve missed in the past 9 months of living in Beijing.

As happy as I am to be surrounded by friends again, I can’t help but feel out of place here. Feeling out of place in the city I considered “home” is a truly shitty situation to be in when I only have 2 months to re-immerse. Perhaps it’s counter culture shock, or I feel lost because I can’t remember the name of every station and connecting line of every subway train, or maybe I’ve just changed a lot. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for this strange feeling, but it better go away soon because I’d like to enjoy myself thoroughly this vacation.

Now how about the good stuff. Well as the title of this post says, Brooklyn is a place where people say hello and it’s awesome! I’ve done a lot of strolling these past few weeks, reacquainting with my old neighborhood. During these strolls, countless people said hi, waved, smiled, nodded, said hello in Chinese, cat called. One guy, middle-aged, waved hello and said hi to every single person he walked past, including people in cars. A little boy with long, curly blonde hair ran past an elderly man sitting on a lawn chair in front of his Park Slope apartment on a busy sidewalk yelling HELLLLOOO! These are just two instances of friendly greetings that put a gigantic smile on my face.

When I was walking up 2nd Ave. in Manhattan, I noticed a short, Latino man karate-chopping some scaffolds. I gave him a smile, acknowledging his Jackie Chan-equivalent skillz and continued on. Then I heard, “China (‘chee-na’), China, do you like to eat?” to which I responded, “YEAH I like to eat (duh!!!)” “You wanna get some lunch with me? Or some coffee? I’d like to buy you something to eat.” “Oh, no thank you, I just ate. Look at my leftovers! Maybe another time.” “Alright…another time baby.”

At the Delicate Steve show last night at Mercury Lounge, somebody mistook me for the Asian keyboardist of the opening band, People Get Ready. I was chatting about China with a bouncer I used to know from my days of frequenting bars. The bouncer had just said something about me wearing all red (haha, China, Communist, get it?), when another dude interrupted to ask me something. I thought he asked, “Are you a spy???” thinking maybe he was just chiming in on our China conversation, so I said, hahaha yes, I AM a spy! He was like, huh? Well, did you? Did I what? DID YOU JUST PLAY? I finally understood he thought I was the girl from People Get Ready. No siree, I know all of us Asians look exactly the same and I’m flattered you thought I was her because she was beautiful and hip, but unfortunately I am not her. I am Emily He, queen of all that is good and holy.

I’m sitting in a sunny cafe called Tiny Cup drinking delicious Counter Culture coffee (HOW IRONIC) and life is good. My mind is all over the place, likely from too much caffeine in one sitting. The brownstones on all the tree-lined streets and people hanging out on their stoops are so Brooklyn-y. Drinking coffee, listening to indie music and blogging on my Mac is so Brooklyn-y. Mommies pushing their babies around, mail-men and -women chatting with the locals and kids running through the streets after school is all so Brooklyn-y. Everything takes time. It’s going to take time for me to get back in the swing of what it means to be Brooklyn. But wait, I think what I loved most about Brooklyn is that everyone can be exactly who they are and still find their niche or niches or even complete isolation if that’s what they want.

So, I need to let down my hair (after I get my haircut tomorrow!) and just be myself and embrace every moment I have in this awesome city I once, and still can, call home. Oooooh, optimism is a good feeling. It’s good to be back.

 

 


Emily, The Awkward Turtle 2: Never Set Emily Up With A Boy

An interesting thing happened the other night. Someone tried to set me up with a Taiwanese man. A girly one.

I went out to dinner with Dingding, her boyfriend and a couple of new folks, Frank and May (not real names). Frank and May are having an affair; May married with a child, and Frank, a coworker. May explained to me that she wasn’t cheating on her husband because she was having an “affair.” That confused me because I thought having an affair was cheating. And so, I asked el internet. (I’ll get back to my Taiwanese encounter as soon as I figure this out.)

Wikipedia: 

An “emotional affair” can be defined as follows:

“A relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.”[1]

In this view, neither sexual intercourse nor physical affection is necessary to impact the committed relationship(s) of those involved in the affair. It is held that an emotional affair can injure a committed relationship more than a one night stand or other casual sexual encounters.

Oprah:

Are you wondering whether you are having an emotional affair?

  • Do you avoid telling your partner how much time you spend or talk with the other person?
  • Do you tell this person more about your day than your partner? Do you even tell him about your marital dissatisfaction?
  • Do you “ready your appearance” to see him?
  • Is there a sexual attraction (spoken or unspoken) between you?
  • Would you feel guilty if your partner saw you together?

If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, get out of there. You are cheating!


Okay. So according to Wiki and Oprah and several other internet sources, an emotional affair is worse than infidelity, which is physical cheating. I don’t know how many yes’s May has to Oprah’s questions, but she defines her relationship with Frank as an affair and regardless of what Oprah and Wiki say, I’ll just take her word for it that she’s not cheating. She just has feelings for a man who is not her husband.

I miss feelings. I miss having crushes on people like I’m in middle school. I don’t like people setting me up with others unless they’re actually really cool and attractive. Sound shallow? Well, there are certain things people should be picky about. A potential mate is one of them.

As I was saying at the beginning of this post, I was at dinner with Dingding and friends (at this DELICIOUS, 1.5 hour wait, tiny mom-and-pop Sichuan cuisine shop). I was the 5th wheel, but I didn’t mind. Not having a partner means I get to have full portions to myself. F*$! sharing. I’m an only child with a big appetite.

We are all chatting having a grand ol’ time until May decides to set me up with one of her friends. John, the Taiwanese fella, lives nearby, so she calls him up and he comes on over. Black button up shirt, black slacks, a shoulder bag. Meh, not my style, but not terrible. He says hello cheerily to all the others and looks at me like he knows what May was stewing. I give him an awkward, overly friendly wave, he sits down and begins chatting away with Frank and May. Fine with me! Then May nudges me and asks me why I’m not talking to John, who’s sitting just a few seats away, putting me in a very awkward situation. Well because he’s sitting there waving his hands and fingers all over town like a valley girl, not looking at me ever, WHICH I AM FINE WITH, and to be honest, he’s not very interesting. Did I forget to mention that I’m not into Asians? “Oh, he’s really nice. I’m just really awkward.”

(These are some of the photos that came up under image search “awkward”:

Can someone please explain why there are so many animals involved with “awkward”?) 

So May, a friend I might have to cross off my list, starts talking about me to John, saying things like, “Emily is from America,” and “She’s going to Taiwan in July.” Of course I’m not going to Taiwan in July, but okay, to humor everyone else at the table. This is what I chime in, “Taiwanese food is so good!” to which he responds, “Mmhm.” We were a match made in heaven.

Then as all new friendships progress, everyone exchanges Weibo (Chinese twitter) information. As John is busy doing so, I violently, but hopefully not too conspicuously, shake my head at Dingding as to say, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to her sudden interest in this “set up”. I’m a little shocked that she thinks John and I would make a good couple. My friends back home (in America) would NEVER set me up with a John, and for that, I love them so so so so much.

We finally leave the restaurant and thank God — if there is one — that John is not coming to the bar with us. As we bid him farewell, forever from me, John begs May, “Please don’t say anything yet! Please please please, not while I’m still here!” I think he was just as disinterested in me as I was in him. Phew. Although also a little bit insulting. People always wants what they can’t have, but in this case, I still don’t want him.

As we head over to the bar, May asks why I’m not interested in John. But before I can answer, she explains to me how many Taiwanese men are quite girly. The way John spoke, the way he flicked his wrists when speaking, just part of his Taiwanese nature. I’m sure this isn’t true of all Taiwanese men (HELLOOO? Jeremy Lin!), but John, he’s just….not for me.

I’m itching for some companionship, but being set up is not the way to do it. It/I was too awkward and uncomfortable. I prefer doing it my own way, whatever that way is, even if it takes a million years and a lot of mistakes. At least I can learn from my mistakes. But do I?


to be a kid again

If Peter Pan showed up at my window and asked me to join him in Neverland, I would fly away in a heartbeat. I’m only 23, but I can feel that as time ticks away, so do bits and pieces of things I treasured most in my childhood, like my imagination.

When I was little, the rooms of my dream house were connected by tunnels and slides. I built forts out of sofa cushions and blankets and it never felt small. One year the Tooth Fairy left me a purple crystal with my tooth in it, and other years she left me money under my pillow. But now that I’m an “adult” who “knows better,” I won’t expect an allowance under my pillow when my teeth begin to fall out, because that’s Life, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

The other day I noticed a little girl, maybe 2-3 years old, who stood wide-eyed before paper butterflies that hung from the ceiling at a mall entrance, marveling at the slight flapping of their wings from the breeze of the swinging doors. I had walked by this display earlier and thought how cheesy the decorations were, but watching the girl in fascination over the fake flowers and butterflies, I realized how much I miss seeing beauty in the ordinary. For a second I tried to envision what the girl saw–a thousand rainbow butterflies floating above a colorful meadow, sparkling with reflections of the sun. In that moment, I too could see the beauty of the cheap  display at the mall entrance. But a moment later, I walked out the swinging door and yelled at a driver for running a red light.

One of the reasons I love kids so much is that I am fascinated by them. They find beauty in ordinary things; they can make things come alive; they find life in obscure places and aren’t afraid to approach them; they don’t complicate things unnecessarily; they don’t discriminate; and they are fearless. Life can be taken at face value when you’re young and untainted. And when Life gets hard, kids can escape to worlds conjured up in their own minds, whereas adults hide their pain behind beer and pill bottles. It’s a shame we have to grow up.

Before I got into my first relationship, I remember wanting to feel heartache. I thought it was part of growing up, of  being human, and I wanted to experience it. Of course it hurt a lot when it actually happened, and rather than having spent hours upon hours analyzing what went wrong, I wish I could’ve just escaped to Neverland, or to an island where the Wild Things live. Reality would have been much easier to cope with.

After my parents’ divorce, I was glad to be far away from them so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Unfortunately, like Dementors, Life seeped its way across the ocean to interfere with my usual cheerfulness. During that time I often wished to be a kid again, where living in blissful ignorance innocence veiled any and all miseries.

No one should have to grow up “too fast” but when they do, it’s nearly always a painful process. My family members often tell me how 单纯 (danchun), “simple, naive” I am, a fact that I think is ascribed to my Americanized upbringing. My cousin, on the other hand, grew up in China with divorced parents — still a taboo at the time — and a mother who didn’t act like one. While her parents carried on with their own misery or when her mother was absent, my cousin had to fend for herself. Besides what she dealt with at home, she saw ugliness outside too. She learned about Life and all its hardships at a young age when kids I grew up with in Brookline, Massachusetts were playing tag and painting pictures at daycare. Now at  22 years old, my cousin looks, acts and thinks far beyond her age, and definitely far beyond me. The painful part of all of this besides a lost childhood? She wants to be close to her mother.

Perhaps this is a generalization, but from my observations and conversations with adults and children alike, I’ve concluded this: Chinese kids grow up too fast. By the time they’re teenagers, imagination is drilled out of them. One of my biggest difficulties when teaching is getting my students to be creative. They are not yet adults, and they are playful, but their minds have been molded to fit exam bubbles. And this is just the result of the education system; Life, as it was for my cousin, is the other predator.

I started volunteering at a migrant worker community center on the outskirts of Beijing a couple weeks ago. Just being around the kids there is uplifting and even refreshing. They remind me how even the simplest things, like throwing a hackeysack in the air by yourself, can be fun. And getting dirt on your clothes, hands and face is no big deal (as long as you wash up with soap before sticking anything in your mouth). My responsibilities at the center are lacking, but just spending time with the kids is worth the 1 hour 45 minute commute.

As you can probably tell I’m reminiscent of childhood (but I wouldn’t go so far as to start acting like a baby). I like to believe that some of my imagination is still intact and that the rooms of my future house will be accessible by slides. Also, perhaps as subconscious resistance to growing up completely, I find the most enjoyment in stories/plots with child protagonists. Stories like The Little Prince, Where The Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, and Millions take me back to the best days of my life and remind me how precious it is to be a kid. Yes, they are all written by adults, but by adults whom I admire very much for their ability to tell stories from the point of view of size 2 shoes, a wolf suit, and a crown.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m living at home again, or the fact that babies are everywhere in China, or the fact that Life throws negativities once in a while that has stirred me to think about my childhood so much lately. I also recently read Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things. More likely, though, it is a combination of all these factors. I can’t remember when my first time saying “I wish I were a kid again” was, but it has since become a commonly used phrase in my life. I know it’s never going to happen, but maybe if I wish for it at my next birthday and blow out all the candles, it will come true.

Meanwhile, I’m just “drafting through Fairyland…”

I thought I should mention, as I was writing this post, “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell came on, brilliantly summing up everything I just babbled about and gently bringing me back to earth. The world works in funny ways, even for adults, doesn’t it?

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like when you’re older must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game *

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

– Joni Mitchell


“Tag. You’re it!” translates to “I like you!”

Back in my little school days, the game of Tag was super fun and flirtatious. In the same way people tease each other when they like each other, the person who is “it” in Tag always chases the person he/she has a crush on. So, when boys chased after me, it was obvious they had the hots for me, the chubby Asian girl in bright yellow jumpers. Duh. In my tween years, I even had dreams of boys chasing me, totally a sign of their lust for moi.

Well, 10 years later, I was “tagged” again, and it wasn’t a dream! I was tagged by a guy who licks moose. He calls himself Mooselicker. You can tell by his name he is very special and obviously digs me. Or at least my blog. Either way, I am extremely flattered though not surprised because my yellow jumpers have always done me wonders. (My 2nd grade student teacher called me “Sunshine” because of those jumpers. There’s a photo of me wearing them holding a huge turkey leg at Disneyland. Glad I don’t have that photo to show you…)

So, like any game, there are rules. Here are the rules to this “adult” game of Tag:

Rules

1. You must post the rules.
2. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
3. Tag eleven people and link to them on your post.
4. Let them know you’ve tagged them!

Just like filling out an OkCupid profile, I answer Mooselicker’s questions below:

1. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What did you think you would become?

Romanticizing between being a Spice Girl and a pediatrician, I knew either way I was going to be a people-pleaser. I was going to save the world whether it be with my booty shakin’ or with a stethoscope. Well, neither has happened but I’m still saving the world in my own little ways.

2. Who is your biggest celebrity crush?

I don’t have a “biggest” celebrity crush–there are tons–but my biggest fictional crush is Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. What a heartthrob, and a nice one.

That should be ME in his arms!

Oh right, then there’s James Franco. Guilty pleasure!

3. Angels, Bigfoots, or Aliens; which one do you think is most likely to exist?

Angels. They live at Victoria’s Secret and come out on Halloween.

4. What is something that everybody seems to enjoy that you hate?

KTV. Everyone’s favorite pastime in China is karaoke. Bleh, I can only do it ever so often.

5. If you opened your front door and I was there, what would you say? What would you really be thinking?

I would say, “Hi! You are the first Jehovah’s Witness that has ever come to my door!” to which you might reply, “No, no, no, I’m not from Kingdom Hall. I’m Mooselicker!” Then, I’d exclaim, “OH MY GOODNESS, I AM SO SORRY!!!”, throw my head back, laugh, give you a huge squeeze and invite you inside for tea and chocolates.

6. What is your favorite movie and why? 

The First Wives Club, because 1) I love everyone in it, 2) it never gets old, 3) it’s cute and hilarious, 4) it subtly empowers women, and 5) I love when Bette, Diane and Goldie sing at the end.

7. There has to be something that you believe you’re the best at, what is it?

Connecting with people. Maybe it’s my smile, or my unusual perkiness, or my enthusiasm when meeting someone new that makes it easy for me to connect with people, and then sell them things. I excel at jobs that involve serving others because I just flash them a smile, nod my head, and tell them how delicious everything is, and they believe me! An ex-coworker hated me for it. She said I was too nice. She is the only person (to my knowledge) that has ever hated me. Whatevs, I know she was just jealous of my likable qualities. If I was making commission at that bakery, I would’ve kicked her ass then wipe it with my 100 dollar billz.

8. Who is the ugliest person you know and why are they so ugly?

Hmmm. I’m having trouble with this one because I try to see the best of everybody. Even if someone is ugly on the outside, I can usually find something beautiful hidden beneath, and vice versa.

9. Is love unconditional?

Yes, until it isn’t. I’m a “hopeless romantic” that loved someone unconditionally for all their terrible qualities that shall not be named, until one day (2 years later, way too long) it finally went away. That is how my affair with unconditional love ended, and boy was it a relief! As for family, yes, love is unconditional.

Reminds me of the time my ex told me not to be jealous if he hooked up with other girls since he was going on tour with his band. Too bad he got kicked out of the band.

10. Lots of people have addictions. What is yours?

Food.

11. What is the nicest compliment you have ever received? What is something that you would like to be complimented more about you?

At the end of my year as a tutor in a 1st grade class, all the students made me handmade thank you cards. Of course they all brought tears to my eyes, but one card especially melted my heart. Johnny, the little rebel who never wanted my help, very unexpectedly wrote “I love you, Ms. He!” and said something along the lines of “I will miss you so much!” and drew me a picture. It wasn’t a direct compliment, but it showed that he actually did like me and that was enough to make me happy for the rest of my life.

If there’s anything I would want to be complimented more on, it would be from my students telling me what a wonderful teacher I am. One day…

Ain't that the truth!

Whew. It took me all day to answer those questions, but now that I have, I’m “it!” That means I get to tag 11 others! And yes, if I tag you, it does mean I have a crush on you (and/or your blog).

These are the folks I’m passing the torch on to (I know some of you have already been tagged recently, so I understand if you  choose not to go through with this again!):

howtodateboys

A Single Year

Your Daily Dose

Currie Rose: Based on a True Story

Traveling Tastebuds

The Sandy Tongue

Tamar Dart

Pigeon Heart

lolweltschmerz

Wandering American

Shards of China

Occulto Antonio (I added one more)

These are my 11 questions for you:

1) What is your favorite childhood memory?

2) If there is one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be and why?

3) What is your favorite pastime, besides blogging of course?

4) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

5) Do you like where you currently live? Why or why not?

6) What is your biggest life goal?

7) What are 3 things you always carry with you?

8) What is the one place you really want to visit?

9) Do you think the world is going to end in 2012?

10) What is your most embarrassing experience you are willing to share with the world?

11) What is your comfort food?

Well alright then, get out onto the field and start running folks-of-the-blogosphere! You are “it!”


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.


Emily Learns to Dance

I had every intention of giving out the awards I’ve been hoarding since Christmas tonight, but then something outrageous happened at the gym that I just had to share with you.

Emily He learned a dance routine to Justin Bieber. You can laugh, friends, but baby baby baby ooooh it’s for real. 

Those who know me know that “graceful” is not an adjective that describes me. My mom encouraged me to take ballet lessons when I was little, but it took just one after-school session to convince her that it wasn’t for me. Throughout middle school and high school, my friends and I attended numerous dances because we wanted to meet cute boys. But I was always too shy to really dance, and whenever a boy would come up behind me to “grind” I would cringe and awkwardly sway back and forth while secretly laughing my brains out at just how silly I looked and felt.

But even though I’m no Shakira, I still love to dance. My friends and I always have dance parties back home and I go wild at every concert. In 6th grade, my oldest friend, Ailen (pronounced Ellen) and I even choreographed a dance to Lucky by Britney Spears wearing matching oversized Limited Too sweaters for a talent show. I also participated in a bar dance-off once and blew everyone away, literally. I think I have improved as an untrained dancer over the years, but I’m still a laughing site because of my funny (UNIQUE AND AWESOME) moves.

Me being a karaoke queen. Oh, I didn't tell you? I'm a star.

Even though I haven’t done much dancing in China, tonight confirmed that I’ve still got my groove thang.

My mom and I went to the gym expecting to take a Latin Dance class, but since I suffer from memory loss, we showed up to a “hip-hop” class instead (I put quotation marks around hip-hop because it wasn’t real hip-hop). Chinese Andy Mcphee from Dawson’s Creek was our instructor.

We started out with some stretches, yes, normal. Then we got into actual moves like jerking the hip from side to side, thrusting my chest backwards and forwards, tossing my head like I do when I’m falling asleep in class, and best of all, twiddling our spirit fingers.

We even had to blow a kiss. All of these moves turned into a less-than-2-minute dance routine that only took an hour to learn! And let me tell you, I got it all down. I was so good my mom asked me later, “You took dance lessons in New York didn’t you?” No, mommy dearest, I’m just that good. 

Injured shoulder aside, the dance class really was a blast, and I laughed throughout the entire session because I was in a roomful of old ladies, and one man, strutting and dipping our hips. To Justin Bieber. In China. With my mom, who loved every moment of it.

Can’t wait till next week!



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?”