PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, STORYTELLING

Irresponsible “Chi-Knees” Joke is Racist

This is not funny, nor should it have made it through the editors or producers of Monster Hunter. How disappointing that in this day and age a movie-maker would think it appropriate to release a movie that had a scene where a childhood racist taunt makes it to the big screen.

An article from The Guardian states: “The controversy highlighted the difficulties for entertainment companies in navigating sensitivities in the enormous Chinese market, while also navigating the country’s strict censorship laws.”

I’m sorry, but this is NOT about the country’s strict censorship laws. To mix the two issues is irresponsible and frankly quite insulting. Censorship is about a country controlling content that they deem inappropriate to their population. For some, it can be political, for others, it is about ethics and morals. Regardless, navigating a country’s censorship law is just par for the course in doing business, much like learning about their tariffs or trade regulations that protect their local businesses.

This is about the responsibility of story-tellers to keep up with reflecting the societal issues of our times, if not get ahead our times and challenge us to be better. I completely understand that no one can manage to know or understand the traumas of everyone else. However, this was a taunt that many young Chinese-Americans have had to live through and pretend didn’t bother us. Some of us learned to joke about it beforehand so that they couldn’t get to us, because we got to ourselves first. Many of us decided at a young age that we didn’t want to be Chinese and escaped from Chinese school or speaking Chinese with our parents.

When I was a kid in California, I was desperate to not look or sound Chinese. I had other kids tease me about my knees and ‘these”. It was a racist taunt and it was meant to hurt us.

Film-makers: Do better.

STORYTELLING

The Power of Prayer

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, what religion do you practice?” she leaned in with curiosity. “Like, how comfortable would you be if I used phrases like a greater power?”

Religion and politics. Those are topics you are wise to stay away from if you want to maintain peace at gatherings of friends or family. But, let’s face it, religion and politics are the two main ways people come together, become one, support one another with passion, unite as US to fight THEM, and deeply feel love and hate.

The fighting is edges interacting. In religion and politics, those safely in the middle of the bubble feel stable and hopeful.

“My husband is an atheist and I’m agnostic.” I started habitually and continued explaining, “My family isn’t religious, but we lean Buddhist. I find it hard to believe with all my heart in anything. To be honest, I feel that there is something incredibly beautiful about all religions, until it is used to control people.”

She nodded.

I’ve always feared feeling too much. Love, hate, fear, anger, happiness, sadness… you name it, any feeling that can get extreme, I avoid. Religion brings out a lot of feelings. I tried one religion twice in junior high and at university. The group activities built a sense of community that I loved, feeling controlled made me recoil, believing that my loved ones were going to hell because they grew up in a different environment was frightening, the injustice of a baby born with original sin made me angry, singing with the choir gave me a high, and of course the cognitive dissonance of it all caused me existential depression. Fun times.

As is my way, I chose to escape it.

“As humans, I think we need to believe and have faith. But I dislike how the powerful manipulate that need, using it to gain money and control.”

She continued to give me a safe space to articulate my thoughts with a warm smile and encouraging nod.

When I was a child, we went to Buddhist temples. My Chinese birth-date falls on the day celebrated as the birthday of Guan Yin, or the Goddess of Mercy. So I was always told that I had yuan feng (rapport, destiny) with Guan Yin. The smoke of the thick sweet intense was not comforting to me, as I associated it with death. The chanting of the monks sounded more eerie rather than comforting. I just could not believe something that I didn’t understand.

The chanting and meditation were supposed to do good things, like help us pass exams or prevail over illnesses. In my youthful arrogance, these asks were just so… selfish and meaningless. Ling shi bao fo jiao was a phrase that often popped in my head: last-minute throwing oneself at the foot of Buddha, begging for help. It smacked of not doing your work and then asking to be taken care of. That was how I used to feel about prayer.

“The more I see, the more I realize that we need both faith and hope.”

She smiled and replied, “Yes, I agree completely.”

This conversation shed light on how much my ambivalence towards a greater power has robbed me of one of the most potent ways we get through difficult times. Knowing that we are never alone, that something or someone will ALWAYS be there to support you with love, that this something or someone has helped countless other people through dark times, that there is ALWAYS hope – – what a powerful feeling.

Faith is having trust in the existence of something without physical proof that it is there. Hope is having the trust that we will get there even though we aren’t there yet. Faith is saying it’s here. And hope is saying it’s there, and we may need to get through some tough times with hard work, but we will get there, together.

I once scoffed at faith, because it seemed so naïve. But now I realize that faith goes hand in hand with hope. While hope keeps us doing the hard work until we see results, faith keeps us going without the proof.

In this world of instant gratification, Google, and credit cards, many of us haven’t learned to excel in life by building all the small pieces that become the strong foundations of integrity, trust, compassion – in relation to ourselves or others. We no longer can hold that feeling of need or want without desiring it to be quenched and resolved right away. We are unable to stand that feeling of emptiness because it feels so hopeless. That is to say, the narrative in our heads is “here we go again” rather than “I know how I want to handle this one.”

Religion and politics give answers. Religion and politics give us rules, but also hope that other people are doing things to fix the bad stuff. The problem is that religion and politics are run by… human beings – and human beings… are not perfect. And therefore – while we will see wonderful things done by people in religion and politics, we will also see terrible things done by them.

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion. Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.

 Steven Weinberg

Being the critical thinkers we were taught to be (or rebellious beings as so many of us are), we often believe that the terrible part completely taints the whole, and we throw out the baby with the bath water.

My question is: Is it possible to extract only the positives involved with religion and politics without the negatives?

For me, that ignited a newfound desire to try to do that with the Heart Mantra associated with Guan Yin. I’ve always struggled with a bad memory and a fear of showing the world my secret flaw that has made everything I do so hard. I cannot use memorization to get anything important done.

But faith and hope encourage us to do things that are good for us even when it’s difficult. Like dealing with stress. Like changing bad coping mechanisms. Like quitting the addictive allure of a soothing but unhealthy activity or substance.

I burst out, “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I eat. It’s my drug, it’s my coping mechanism to deal with stress. It’s my addiction.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to suggest to you to pray for self-discipline.” She suggested in response.

Prayer. That used to be a triggering word for me. I would flinch a tad because it seemed like such a futile activity. “Sending prayers and thoughts.” Or, You are imposing your beliefs on me by telling me that your God will answer your prayers to help me. But over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that we all have the right to label the power of intentional thoughts with whatever words work for us. I tried using “Sending you warm thoughts and healing hugs” which doesn’t quite comes across as well as prayers to a greater being, but it was what I was comfortable with.

But when she asked me to pray, I thought, Wait a minute, I have a prayer that is mine! It is my birth right. I just never wanted to memorize it because I couldn’t memorize a short mantra while kids from Taiwan used to memorize hundreds of history BOOKS. I felt shame and guilt about this. I tossed it aside because I didn’t believe in the power of the mantra, nor did I believe that I could do it. Which one was the real reason? No matter, they both contributed to my wanting to run away.

So, now, I am starting a new journey.

I have broken down the mantra into small pieces, four phrases a day (and if it takes me two days, I’ll be kind to myself and shift everything over by another day). I will memorize this mantra and use it as a prayer when I’m anxious. I will use it to pray for others. I will use it to pray for self-discipline when I want to overeat. I will use it to give me strength from a greater power. I will turn to my mantra to remember that I’m not alone and that I can do this.

Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptinessemptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptinessemptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this.

Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease.

Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight … no realm of mind consciousness.

There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance… neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment.

With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana.

All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajna paramita and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment.

Therefore, know the prajna paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false.

Therefore we proclaim the prajna paramita mantra, the mantra that says: “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha.

Sources: Translation by a team of translators who participated in the Soto Zen Translation Project, highlights and links from The Heart Sutra Part 1: Introduction to the Most Common Mahayana Text – The Zen Studies Podcast

What is your relationship with prayer?

STORYTELLING

Trading Chinese Pride for White Supremacy

“Are your boys proud to be mixed? Or they haven’t noticed any difference…”

The WhatsApp message flashed there on my screen and I stared it.

I read it again. I looked away.

I sighed and put my fingers on the QWERTY keyboard of the laptop as a thousand voices exploded in my head (voices representing shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and repression), but I managed to type out my answer to her within the acceptable real-time 10-second response time: “I think I’ve downplayed their Chineseness in my own eagerness to escape it. And I’ve unconsciously tried to be white.”

Per usual, this exchange triggered something pretty deep inside of me.

For most of my life, I’ve tried to be more white (American, really) in order to reduce friction and to survive in this world. I’ve had more than one colleague say “Oh, I totally forget that you’re Chinese.” It’s the way I talk, my accent, my body language, the pop culture I actively absorbed and regurgitated for small talk. It’s like I’m walking this tightrope and hedging my bets. Yes, I know I’m Chinese, but if I downplay that enough, maybe I’ll be accepted into the inner circle where I can compete with the others for coveted roles. I’m also just weird enough not to get caught up in political dramas, because I’m an outsider. My ‘keep your head down and just work harder’ and ‘don’t bring attention to yourself’ attitude was coming through. I’ve also dealt with a lot of fear and uncertainty of my own identity of being a “Chinese person” “from” “Taiwan”. So I chose to be Canadian. But I’m not really.

Like some Canadians, I thought that we lived in a classless, non-racist country. My naïve assumptions were wrong at so many levels. I got called out one day years ago by a friend in the US who scoffed at my post about how glad I was that Canada was not racist compared to our southern cousins. She DM’d me and proceeded to open my eyes to the race issues we faced in Canada, long before it became an open topic. It was a wow moment for sure. It was after that incident that I realized I had to actively learn more about this issue that I thought was not an issue.

Since they were born, I unconsciously taught my kids to be Canadian with a side of Taiwan Chineseness – the Tiger side. They know they are half Chinese with a mom from Taiwan and they are half Caucasian with a dad from small town Ontario. We didn’t raise them to be proud of their heritage or proud of their history. In my mind, I was escaping the Chinese side, which can actually be quite racist, sexist, ageist, etc.

And now, there’s a strong movement of Chinese-Americans who have been incredibly vocal about supporting Black Lives Matter. They aggressively encourage us to understand that our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters have suffered generations of injustice that live on in their memories, genes, family history, and communities. They have put out their call to arms about how we need to right this. They remind us that while we fight for THEIR cause, it doesn’t take away from our cause. They amplify the message: It is not enough to not be racist, we have to be anti-racist. And we have to do this together.

The first time I read this, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t ready to voice my opinions or fight for injustice. But 2020 has been all about all of us challenging our beliefs and standing up for what is needed to build an equitable and safe world for the future.

Currently, I am in the process of learning what that means, what my voice is, how to teach my children, and what to do when having a discussion with someone who disagrees with me. I’m exploring my stance, voice, and ability to defend what I say… to myself, to my children, to anyone really.

Earlier this year, a colleague told my boss I was racist. Around the same time, I had colleagues who were being very racist towards Chinese wearing masks or asking to work from home at the beginning of COVID-19. One of my best friends, hearing me agonize over these issues responded “I thought you said you were a good manager?” And I realized that in order to be a good manager, a good mother, a good friend, I really needed to clarify and live my stance about racism. It was a defining moment that broke me a little, but we are just resetting a bone that wasn’t growing right. It will be straight and strong. In the meantime, it’s a journey.

How is your journey going? Has that impacted your relationships with friends? Is your child proud of their ethnic background?

LOVE FIRST

1,000 visits! Fried Rice Anyone?

YAY!

Since I started this project in August, there have been 1,000 visits to Sandwich Parenting as well as 100 listens to the podcasts. Thanks everyone for your support!

Doing this has been very healing. To be honest, I just hope that I don’t do my normal ‘thing’ where I celebrate a milestone and then get stuck on a plateau. It’s a self-sabotaging coping mechanism I think do because I fear success and the challenges that come with expectations. Working on it, working on it.

Random distracting thought (another coping mechanism) to the rescue…

NAME CHANGE?

By the way, should I change this site to “Fried Rice Parenting”?

Sandwiches are so Western, and I am Chinese. You take what you have in the house, chop it up, fry it all up, and you get a unique wok of fried rice each time. What do you think?

(I have a soft spot for fried rice. It’s the one thing my kids will eat, pretty much no matter what I put into it. As long as there is more rice than ‘stuff’, I can hide vegetables and they will eat it up with gusto. Also, my Hong Kong Rice Girl name was Flied Lice. But I digress!)

SANDWICH STORY

Ooh… but I do have a sandwich story from childhood…

One day in grade 2, I opened up my lunch bag and saw a really, really sad sandwich. There were two slices of bread and a slice of cheese and a thin slice of ham. I was really confused, as the sandwiches that my mom made for me were really chock full of stuff. A lot of stuff. Like a lot. But I ate it. It was really dry. I do remember having a moment of confusion before I went along my day, albeit, slightly hungry.

Towards the end of lunch time, while I was chatting away with my friends, the teacher made an announcement:

“Has anyone seen Andrew’s lunch? I think someone might have taken his lunch. There is a still lunch here in this paper bag. Does this seem familiar? I see a lovely sandwich, with tomato, fried egg, ham, lettuce, cheese… I see an apple and an orange in here too and some crackers. If no one claims this, I’ll have to throw this out in the garbage! What a shame, as it looks so tasty and healthy.”

It wasn’t until a few days later when I ate my normal lunch with a sandwich that was suspiciously similar to the one she described that something clicked in my head with a loud ‘DOPE!

I think of the way my mom lovingly made my lunch. An immigrant to America, with limited English, 2 kids and pregnant with a third, unfamiliar with Western food, making me a healthy sandwich for my lunch. She even added sometimes shredded pork in my sandwiches, which, weirdly goes super well with butter. She made me food I liked. She made food with love. And now I wonder about Andrew and his sandwich, which I considered sad compared to mine. But maybe it was the best that his busy parent could do for him.

I think I’ll stick with Sandwich.

PODCAST INTERVIEW, STORYTELLING

“Perfect Chinese Son” to “Backpacking Bum”

Watch Jonathan’s TEDx talk, enjoy the Su Family photo album. and listen to our interview below.

Annie and Jonathan Su of Su Family Adventures


The Su Family on their last day of quarantine in Hong Kong!

When you visit their robust website, you can tell that they are living their lives THEIR way, not necessarily the way they were brought up by their parents to. But they have been able to balance the best of the East and West to parent their three amazing children.

Authentic (and brutally honest), Jonathan and Annie share their experiences in our podcast, touching on numerous Sandwich Parenting Topics, such as:

  • Generational Difference: Their parents grew up during in World War II and lived with chaos, war and starvation. Their parenting mentality was all about how to survive, to be safe, and to provide for the family.  Jonathan and Annie had to move from survival mode to a focus on living with meaning.
  • Education: For Asians, education is important and its costs are usually all covered by parents.  The Sus did not want to have the kids graduate with debt, but also wanted them to develop a sense of responsibility. As they did not want their kids to feel like they were getting handouts, they developed a graduated educational cost covering system. This is such a good idea, I’m going to copy them! Listen to the interview to hear about this awesomely thoughtful system. Pro skills!
  • Cultural Differences: Annie was parented with a Confucian mindset, which includes a top-down approach where elders (even strangers) “feel entitled” to tell us what to do, what to think, and how to look.  Learning a Western approach to disagree was difficult for her.
  • Mental Health Issues: Annie had to go through counselling to learn how to push back and encourage elders to mind their own business.  Simultaneously, in a typical Sandwich Parenting situation, she recognizes that her former parenting style may have caused her kids problems, but now she’s able to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know better. Yes, my life choices or mistakes may have negatively impacted you, but what are we going to do now? Let’s figure it out.”
  • Meeting parental expectations: Jonathan did everything the Chinese immigrant parents want for their son. He had made his parents very happy with his model education, career, marriage, and even two kids (one boy, one girl)… Then, at age 30, “he became a bum picking up trash with the street children in Kunming” when he decided to pursue a more meaningful life for him and his family.

Their Key Message:

Don’t be confined by your culture or environment.  Be creative in finding and pursuing your passion and helping your kids find and pursue theirs.

Jonathan Su’s TEDx Talk at Yunnan University 2018.

Su Family Photo Gallery

LOVE FIRST

Chopped Apples Means Love

A while back, I told my mom that like she used to do for us, I wash, peel, and chop up fruit for my kids to eat.  They love it and can inhale quite a bit.  My mom laughed and said, yes, your little sister used to wonder why American apples never tasted as good as Taiwanese apples.  She reminded me that I also stopped eating fruit when I went to study at University in Canada, away from home. 

Food is a way to for parents to show their love to their children.  The taste of a clean, peeled, chilled apple is Mom’s LOVE. My mom sent me her journal entry and I’ve translated it for us to enjoy.

Taiwanese Apples are Better than American Apples!

In the heart of S, there was a question. Since apples are imported from the United States to Taiwan, why then did the apples that were eaten in the States never as delicious as the ones she ate at home in Taipei?  It wasn’t until one night during her senior year at university, did she suddenly realize the answer!

Two of her classmates were hanging out with her in her dorm room that night. She took out an apple from the refrigerator and asked the two whether they would like to have some. Both of them shook their heads no. She then cut up the apple and just before she started to eat and purely out of courtesy, she politely asked them once again if they wanted to have any.  Her friends suddenly changed their minds and now wanted to have some.

The question that S had harboured for so long was finally answered! The apple eaten at home in Taiwan was peeled, washed, and cut into pieces by mom. Of course that tasted so much better than apples in the U.S. that had to be peeled, washed, and cut into pieces by herself!

台灣的蘋果比美國的好吃

老三心中一直以來,有一個疑問,她認為,蘋果很多是從美國進口到台灣的,“那為什麼在美國住校時吃的蘋果,沒有在台北家中的好吃呢?”直到她大四的有一天晚上,才恍然大悟,有了答案。

那晚她的兩位同學在她的宿舍房內,她從冰箱拿出蘋果,問兩位同學要不要吃,兩人看了一眼都搖頭說不。老三削好了蘋果,自己要吃之前,再禮貌地問她們,兩人居然都要吃了。老三擺在心中很久的疑問,終於有了解答:原來,在台灣家中吃的蘋果,都是媽媽洗好、削好的,當然比在美國還得自己洗、自己削的來得好吃。

I published this article in my Kung Fu Mama WordPress blog post a few years ago… and today, my sister (of apple story above), sent me the link to a great article “Love in the Shape of Cut Fruit” by Chinese American Connie Wang. See? So you really CAN taste LOVE!

STORYTELLING

Chinese, Not Chinese

After living at home with my parents up to the age of 18, I moved from Taipei, Taiwan, where I was born, to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to attend university. I was (am) Chinese ethnically, and (sort of) culturally, and (not perfectly) linguistically. But I’m not from China, was not born in China, do not have a Chinese passport, and do not align myself with the government of the People’s Republic of China. I don’t read simplified Chinese from China, I barely read traditional/complex Chinese from Taiwan. I sound native Chinese with a light Taiwan accent until I start trying to use words for business or history or art… or… really anything more than eating and living daily life… or idioms.

I didn’t realize how complicated I felt about my origin and background until I went to university in Canada, the country of my citizenship… partially because I lived in Canada nowhere near as long as I had lived in the US and Taiwan up to that point in my life. A typical conversation went like this:

New friend (NF): So, where are YOU from?

Me: I’m from Taiwan.

NF: So, you are Taiwanese.

Me: No… I’m Chinese.

NF: So, you are from China?

Me: No, I was born in Taiwan.

NF: So you are…Taiwanese?

Me: NO!  I’m definitely not Taiwanese!

NF: I’m confused.

Me: [Background about Republic of China and Communist China as I understood it in my limited way. As I never really studied it in school… only learned about it through my parents.]

NF: Uh, okay.  But why is your English so good?  It sounds native.

Me: Oh, my English is better than my Chinese.

NF: It is?  Why?

Me: [Background about leaving Taiwan when I was 3 and moving around in California and then returning to Taiwan at age 12.]

NF: So you’re American?

Me: No, I’m Canadian.

NF: But you lived in the US?

Me: Yes, but we immigrated to Canada in between.

NF: ?!?!?

Yeah. So, I was sort of treated like an international student, until I opened my mouth. Then people just assumed I was Canadian. But my Canadian knowledge was very limited. I actually knew a lot more about American history than anything else due to going to an American school where we studied American history in grades 10 and 11.

NF: Let’s watch hockey this weekend!

Me:  Uh, okay! Sounds… fun…

NF: blah blah blah, the Kings, blah blah, the Great One, blah blah…?

Me: The… Great… One?

NF: You don’t know who the Great One is?!?!?!?!?

Me: No…?

NF: Wayne Gretzky!

Me: Sure!  Wayne Gretzky!  (Eek?!?!?!?)

NF: [Looks quizzically at me, like, what kind of Canadian are you anyway?!?!?!?]

To be honest, I felt neither here nor there. I never felt like I was ‘in’ an ‘in group’ because I am always an outsider. I’m not really ‘local’ anywhere. No one truly ever understood my background. I moved around approximately every one or two years by the time I was 25. I was really good at surviving and adapting to a new environment right away… but I wasn’t very comfortable getting too close to people.

I’ve both felt very protective of people from Taiwan, but at the same time, did not want to insult people from China. The whole issue around the economy and independence is political and I didn’t like politics. And while I have experienced some anti-Chinese racism and challenges, for the most part, I have felt fortunate. I don’t fit with the Taiwanese group, I don’t fit with the Chinese group… and I don’t quite fit in with the expats.

As I contemplated this, I realized that we all feel this way, we just use different categories. We can feel ‘out’ due to our height, weight, gender, socio-economic status, schools we went to, clubs we didn’t join, athletic prowess (or lack of!), and… and… and…!

The answer is to find people we connect with, not feel rejected or left out by groups we don’t join. We can find people who care about the same things, people who also have racially mixed kids, working moms, Untigering parents, third culture kids, people who love Hamilton, neighbours whose kids go to the same schools… I’m Chinese, Not Chinese. I’m Canadian, Not Canadian. But actually, I’m Chinese-Canadian and lots of other things… and yet not any label. I’m just me.

You be you. I’ll be me. And when we come together, let’s have a good time.