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:

“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.

It’s Thanksgiving! Here’s What I’m Grateful For:

  • a full stomach
  • loving parents, no matter how unbearable they can be at times
  • friends for the rest of my life, who love me for the silly way I am
  • WordPress, because I’ve learned so much, shared so much, and have met so many inspiring people I would never have met otherwise
  • the ability to see, hear, smell, taste and feel
  • my parents, again, for working tirelessly their entire lives so that I may enjoy all that I now have in my life (including the new pair of boots I got today!)
  • mobility–including the privilege of travel which has opened my eyes wider than any book or lecture (and just to take a moment to brag, these are the countries I have visited: Guatemala, Morocco, Portugal, Amsterdam, Spain, Germany, Japan, France, and Italy.)
  • public transportation, though it can be such a hassle
  • my college adviser, June, who I admire so much for her compassion, brilliance and kindness
  • my “almond shaped” eyes and dimples (thanks to mama dearest)
  • being bilingual–my salary is higher because of it
  • a conscience that told me not to accept the job teaching English at a monster corporation (New Oriental, it literally has an office in every corner of China) that robs students of their money and teachers of their sanity.
  • Gmail/gchat because I can keep in touch with my friends across the ocean
  • Time Out because it just informed me that a Hello Kitty themed restaurant is opening up in Beijing (I haven’t had the chance to mention the Hello Kitty store I came across in Chongqing yet). Keeps my life exciting!
  • farmer’s markets (in the US) because their produce is just so fresh and the prices are unbeatable!
  • not just one, but several roofs over my head. I feel like I have a home wherever I go. That’s surely something to be grateful for.

There is infinitely more I am grateful for, but it would be impossible to list them all here.

So, Gobble Gobble to those who celebrate Thanksgiving! And Thank You, to those who make life worth living!

How to Order at a Chinese “Farm-to-Table” Restaurant

As the course of nature would have it, the food must grow first before we can order it at a restaurant.

Farm machines.

Snow Pea shoots, a favorite of mine. Great in soup or lightly stir fried!

Airing out.

Once the food has grown and has been collected, it is transported both locally and to the city. In this case, Kunming. (These photos are from my trip to Yunnan, my mom’s neck of the woods).

I'm sure this guy doesn't deliver into the city.

Now, we are ready to order from some of China’s finest. Follow these easy steps and you’ll have yourself a most delicious meal!

1) Swoon at the assortment of veggies, proteins, grains, seafood, etc.

2) Deliberate amongst family members and/or guests (only one or two people usually decide what to eat for everybody. China’s not a democracy, obviously. Notice below that I am excluded from the ordering process).

"Hmm, so much yummy stuff! How to choose?! How to chose?!"

3) Find a seat, chat, open your appetite with some tea, and wait eagerly for your food.

And finally, 4) Voila! The meal is prepared!

Just kidding. It looks more like this:

(I never catch my aunt at her finest...)

and this,

Dried salty fish with really pointy, crunchy noses (mouths?). Not my favorite.

You see! Easy as pie! Cleaning off the plates is even easier! But losing the weight? Not so much.

Plentiful Pears and Other Fruits

My post yesterday about Yueyue was heavy, which is unusual for me, but it needed to be said.

Now, although I feel a bit weird about continuing my normally cheerful blog, it also needs to be done. Because after all, life goes on.

So, deep breath, I am still my fruitful self!

And that’s exactly what this post is about: FRUIT! Of all the things that are lacking in China, one thing there is always an abundance of is fruit in all shapes and sizes!

My first encounter with fruit was last month in Kunming. Some family and I went pear-picking, and it sure was plentiful…

plentiful pears

And an uncle in a pear tree..

mama pear

I never really thought about where or how pomegranates were grown, until I found this tree in front of my dad’s apartment:

Fruits of My Father's Garden (it doesn't actually belong to him)

Hawthorn Berries are sweet and very sour, good for juice

The rest of these photos are from all over, grown uncontrollably everywhere.

welcoming gourds


persimmon tree

Rambutan from the Maldives, similar to lychee in China

A fruit market in Kunming.

This last photo is one of my favorites that I’ve taken since I’ve been in China. Too bad his grapes were so overpriced.

The Man with Many Grapes

Let Me Introduce Some Family

My cousin Deng Yaxing (Cindy) is a high school student in Beijing. She studies classical voice with my mom. This is her, my dear 16 year-old cousin performing in a bar:

Isn't she cool?

This is Yaxing having some tea and beer with her biggest fans: her parents, my “small uncle” and “small aunt,” and my mom (left to right):

This is a more accurate portrayal of my uncle (Xiao jiujiu):

This is my other cousin, Jing E (“Golden Swan,” but she goes by her real name Yang Yanhao) daughter of my “xiao yi” (another aunt):

She looks different when she lets down her hair:

Jing E is the beauty queen of the family

When Jing E came to visit, we went to an amusement park and the Water Cube at the Olympic Green (Park).


You can't visit a new place without getting a caricature done!

The Water Cube

Call me Grandma. I can take it. I went down that water slide!

This is a sign I came across when leaving Olympic Green. My Chinese name is jumbled (何茵茵). Also, notice the sentimental translation:

I promise to never trample you, dear Tender Fragrant Grass!

When we’re hungry, we have many options to choose from:

Option 1: Scorpions (?) and silkworms

Option 2: Seahorse

Option 3: Meat buns (Xiao Longbao)

We went with option 3.

I forgot to mention my mother’s birthday was on the 22nd. Like most events, we celebrated by sharing a huge meal with family friends. But a birthday is never complete without a cake, no matter how stuffed to the brim of vomiting you are.

Yes, she's only 5.

Let me also introduce my dad, who graciously passed down his most vibrant features onto me: the round nose and face. Thanks, dad.

Samurai He

And for my friends, this is what I’ve been up to when I’m not eating, or screaming from a rollercoaster, or traveling to even farther away places:

I'm hula-hooping!

and making friends! (For those who don't know me, I have a terribly goofy side. My mom hates when I pose like this in photographs)

Finally, I’m also tip-toeing on curbs and burning my retinas in attempt to capture beautiful Beijing moments like these:

Looks like this city isn’t as bad as I remember from childhood…


Mooncake Madness!!!

I always envied those with big families, all those family reunions and holidays spent together. Growing up, my holidays were celebrated with other Chinese families, close family friends, feasting together. As I got older, however, we all grew apart, and with my mom in China and my dad working all the time, my holidays were spent alone with Ailen, my best childhood friend, and her parents. Can’t say it was not enough because I consider them family, but it still was’t the same. The excitement was lost. But for the first time in many, many years, since before I started college, I got to spend a holiday with a whole lot of family, and boy was it glorious!

September 12th, or the 15th of August on the Chinese lunar calendar, was the mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie) when families gather to celebrate by eating mooncakes. People go crazy over mooncakes, giving and receiving, eating and sharing. It’s mooncake madness!

In America, I never celebrated such a holiday. I had heard of it, and I had eaten mooncakes (never much enjoyed them), but my family did not celebrate it. This year, however, I got to spend that day with my mother’s side of the family in Kunming.

My aunt rose early in the morning to go grocery shopping and brought home various greens, mushrooms that only grow in the Yunnan summertime, a whole chicken for soup , three kinds of noodles, ground meat for dumplings, and an entire bag of wonton wrappers (enough for hundreds, maybe thousands of wontons) which she mistook for her own groceries. My “big aunt” (Da jiuma) arrived early to help my “middle aunt” (xiao yi) prep for lunch. I helped them wrap wontons! When the rest of my uncles, aunts and cousins arrived, we began to eat. We ate noodles and wontons and soup, saving the main dishes of crab, thousand year egg, spicy stewed chicken, stir fried chives and pork, and various vegetables, for dinner. Nothing beats a home-cooked meal, especially when it is stuff I can’t get in America.

The entire day consisted of cooking, eating, watching TV, drinking tea and beer (Budweiser!! How American!!), playing Mahjohng (I’m a pro!), eating mooncakes, and just enjoying the company of family.

The night ended with good conversation on our rooftop and with this lovely view:

Apparently, the moon hasn’t shined that bright in 40 years. It was almost blinding!

As children go off to school in far away places, parents travel for work, and grandparents stay at home, families are increasingly getting split apart. Therefore, holidays such as the mid-Autumn Festival which was traditionally celebrated with the entire family is now in recent years just a phone call and a bite of mooncake. This is normally the case with my family as well, but due to unusual and very fortunate circumstances, we got to eat mooncakes together.

Sigh…it’s good to be home. And 20 pounds heavier.

Mushrooms you can't get anywhere else or at any other time!