‘Touching Home in China’ Explores Nation, Lives of Girls in Insightful, Intimate Curriculum

China’s rise has continued to drive interest in learning about the country and its culture, as well as also a need for more insightful resources for the classroom. Touching Home in China, an open source multimedia curriculum created by Melissa Ludtke, Julie Mallozzi and Jocelyn Ford (which includes a textbook), offers a very compelling and intimate take on China by following Maya Ludtke and Jennie Lytel-Sternberg, two Chinese adoptees in America who journey back to their birthplaces in the country, two rural communities located in Jiangsu province.

Readers explore China vicariously though not only Maya and Jennie, who discover what their girlhoods might have been like in their birth villages, but also through the many rural girls they meet. Their own stories, along with photographs and videos (available online), become woven together with the academic, bringing to vivid life trends, statistics and scholarly insights.

For example, a section titled “Becoming a Wife”, which starts off with the idea that families in China typically expect girls to get married and have children, shows how Mengping always gets asked if she has a boyfriend every time she returns from Shanghai to visit family in her rural village. The same section concludes with a conversation between Maya, Mengping and another girl in the same village, where they discuss gender roles in marriage in China and the US.

The thread of self-discovery in Touching Home in China also extends to identity, something Maya and Jennie ponder while visiting these rural villages where they were born. For example, in one conversation the girls talk about feeling at times not entirely Chinese or American. It’s enlightening to read about how each of the girls grapples with their own evolving sense of self throughout the curriculum, helping readers to understand their perspectives and the experience of feeling tied to two different worlds, yet wondering where you belong.

Touching Home in China has such a fresh approach that it even captivated me, someone who has lived over a decade in the country and picked up countless books on the subject. When you read about these girls’ dreams, disappointments and hopes, you can’t help but care and root for them as you follow their paths through school to graduation and beyond. Not every story ends happily. Still, I found it heartening to observe the ways in which the girls in both countries gained something from these cross-cultural exchanges — from learning more about who they are to finding inspiration in new possibilities.

You can access Touching Home in China at its website or buy the companion textbook at Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

P.S.: To learn more about Touching Home in Chinaread my interview with Melissa Ludtke.

Guest Post: The Traditional Chinese Wedding That Changed Me & My Dating Preferences

Have you ever attended a wedding that changed the way you thought about yourself — and who you want to date? That’s what happened to Joanna Scarpuzzi, who writes, “Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was.”

Do you have a story about a life-changing wedding — or another guest post you’d like to see featured here? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your writing published on this blog.
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Joanna Scarpuzzi
Joanna Scarpuzzi

Growing up in a mixed family (my dad is White-American, and my mom is Asian-American), I was excited to see who my siblings and I would date and eventually marry. All of us kids were homeschooled until were in 9th grade so our circle of friends was pretty small. I remember my sisters and I having crushes on White boys and Asian boys alike. My brother, also, dated a Chinese girl, a mixed girl, and a White girl, in that order.

It wasn’t until we were college age that our preferences became more evident. My sisters felt that Asian culture was too traditional and exclusive dated White boys. I, on the other hand, moved to China in 2010 to teach at an international school in an attempt to learn more about my Asian roots. During my six years abroad, if someone were to ask me if I could see myself married to a Chinese man, I would have told them, without a doubt, yes! I loved everything about Chinese culture: the food, the language, the community aspects, the filial piety.

Then, I attended a traditional Chinese countryside wedding. A group of us foreigners spent a weekend at a hotel awaiting the wedding festivities for our friend and coworker. The whole time we were there, we were not allowed to do anything remotely relating to helping with preparations. We were treated like honored guests.

The morning of the wedding, we joined the friends and family in the courtyard of the house. Cousins climbed up on the roof to bang pots and pans and set off firecrackers to welcome the wedding party.

After a short traditional ceremony in the courtyard, the bride and groom were ushered into their wedding chambers where they sat on a red-blanketed bed with posters of naked babies on the wall behind them. On that bed, they played some teasing games while the groom’s friends and relatives tossed nuts and dried fruit at them.

It was during this time that I realized how very different I really was. Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was. It was so different from my expectations for weddings, and made me realize I would not want a wedding like this, which made me wonder if it was really just the wedding or if it was something more.

It was this experience that caused me to ponder on the fact that perhaps I wasn’t being honest with myself when I told people I could see myself ending up with a Chinese man. Maybe I’m more independent than I thought or maybe my version of being raised the Asian way was a mixture of East and West. Maybe I wasn’t willing to give up being “comfortable” in America to truly connect with my roots. Whatever the reason, someday I hope to find a man who embraces my world, a perfect blend of Chinese and American culture.

After living in China for the past six years, Joanna Scarpuzzi is now back in the US and writes about teaching and her experiences with culture, specifically Asian culture.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Interview with Kelli Estes on Her Novel “The Girl Who Wrote in Silk”

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Some books are so captivating that I even cherish the memories of scrolling through the pages with my e-reader in hand. The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes is that kind of book.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli EstesI’m surrounded by bookish friends and bloggers who get really excited whenever they hear about interracial love stories (especially AMWF pairings) and this was one of those books everyone seemed to be talking about the summer of 2015.

I finally got my hands on a copy from the library sometime in August, which is coincidentally one of the most dreadful months weather-wise in Hangzhou. It’s so humid you feel like you’re wrapped up in a steaming wet towel wherever you walk. Normally it’s a month that doesn’t register much in my mind, as I usually spend most of it shut up indoors with the A/C cranked on high.

But I vividly remember the August days when I read The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, as though the book itself provided a much-needed vacation from the oppressive heat. Granted, the novel takes place in the gorgeous San Juan Islands (which allowed me to imagine myself into this refreshingly cool summer destination), but it’s much more than just the setting.

Kelli has woven together the lives of Inara and Mei Lien – two women separated by over 100 years, but bound together by an embroidered silk sleeve with secrets of its own – into an enchanting story filled with love, courage and humanity. There’s interracial love in the past and present (Inara catches the eye of a handsome young Chinese American professor in her quest to understand the story behind that silk sleeve; Mei Lien falls for Joseph, a man whose kindness and generosity seem as endless as the oceans that surround their island). The story spotlights atrocities against the Chinese in America, exposing history that never should have been forgotten. And did I mention it’s all so beautifully written, a real page-turner that will keep you engaged from the beginning to the end?

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk even made the USA Today Bestseller’s List in December 2015. Wow.

I’m thrilled and honored to interview Kelli Estes about her debut novel The Girl Who Wrote in Silk.

Kelli EstesHere’s Kelli Estes’ bio from Goodreads:

Kelli Estes grew up in the apple country of Eastern Washington before attending Arizona State University where she learned she’d be happiest living near the water, so she moved to Seattle after graduation. Today she lives in a Seattle suburb with her husband and two sons. When not writing, Kelli loves volunteering at her kids’ schools, reading (of course!), traveling (or playing tourist in Seattle), dining out, exercising (because of all the dining), and learning about health and nutrition.

You can follow Kelli at her website www.kelliestes.com, on her Facebook page, and Twitter. Her debut novel The Girl Who Wrote in Silk is available at Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

In this interview, I asked Kelli about everything from how she approached her research to what it felt like to learn her book was a USA Today Bestseller:

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You’ve written before that you knew nothing about Chinese culture prior to beginning this book, and yet your book does a good job of portraying Chinese culture. How did you approach your research to ensure your portrayal was as authentic as possible?

You’re right, before this book I knew very little about Chinese culture. When the idea for The Girl Who Wrote in Silk came to me, I really wanted to write the story, but I was completely overwhelmed with the belief that I wasn’t qualified to write it. I’m not Chinese, I don’t have any Chinese family members, I’ve never studied Chinese culture, etc. And yet, I realized that this story needed to be written because so few people knew about the anti-Chinese riots and ethnic cleansing through all Western states in the last half of the nineteenth century. No one else was writing the story, so it was up to me. I started my research by reading everything I could get my hands on…from non-fiction books on Chinese traditions, symbolism, and customs, to all kinds of fiction books with a Chinese protagonist to help me get into the point-of-view of my Chinese character. In Seattle there is a museum called the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and they were a wealth of information for me in both their exhibits and their archives. The Wing Luke also happened to host a dinner I attended that was presented by a food and cultural anthropologist discussing and sharing food eaten by “Chinese settlers in the 1880’s.” Basically, I soaked up as much knowledge and culture as I could until I felt confident enough to write.

You were first inspired to write this story in part because of a horrifying account of a smuggler in the San Juan Islands who killed his illegal Chinese passengers rather than risk getting caught with them. And in the process of researching the novel, you went on to discover more of the darker side of American history. What surprised or shocked you most in the process of researching the story?

So much of what I learned about how Chinese people were treated shocked me, but probably what stands out the most was that other victimized cultures at the time (Native Americans, Irish immigrants, etc.) were sometimes the perpetrators of violence against Chinese. I would have liked to think that these groups would feel compassion toward one another and aid one another, but the reality is that the nation was so filled with an “Us against them” mentality, that very little compassion existed. We’ve learned some in the years since, but our nation still has a long way to go in this regard.

Your story features two cross-cultural/interracial relationships — Inara and Daniel in the present, and Mei Lien and Joseph in the past. Which couple was your favorite to write and why?

If you asked me which time period was my favorite to write I would answer the historical because I loved being able to sprinkle in the bits of information I learned in my research and I loved bringing the period to life. When you ask which was my favorite couple, however, it’s more difficult to answer. I loved Mei Lien and Joseph because Joseph’s love for Mei Lien did not see their differences that others couldn’t see past. I loved that he gave up the life he thought he wanted for a life with Mei Lien. However, when I think about Inara and Daniel, I also love them. Their cultural differences weren’t an issue at all, which I hope reflects interracial couples of today and certainly reflects my own belief that at the heart and soul level, we are all the same. When taking a look at both couples together, I loved showing that in this area, at least, our nation has grown and matured. Most of us can see that love is what matters; not skin color, eye color, speech patterns, or even gender.

Your novel uses scenes from the present and the past to tell the story. Was it challenging weaving these two storylines together?

It wasn’t as challenging as you might think. I wrote the entire historical story first. Then I wrote the whole contemporary story. When it was time I wove the two stories together in a way that made the most sense to me. My agent then suggested we weave in a slightly different way…and then my editors suggested yet another way. So, in a way, I guess it did get a little challenging trying to figure out the best way to weave (i.e. should we “see” the event happening in the historical story before the contemporary characters discover it in their research or vice versa?). I think how we landed was the best way and it took several people to get there!

In the novel, there’s a stunning silk sleeve embroidered with a story that ties the past and present together. How did you decide to have a story hidden within that embroidered silk sleeve?

I chose a silk sleeve because my plotting partner, Carol, showed me a framed and embroidered silk sleeve she had purchased as a souvenir in China. I thought it was beautiful and unique so I started researching Chinese embroidery. I fell in love with the artistry and meaning revealed through the symbols on the embroideries. They seemed to me to be communicating something that I would never truly know without intensive research into symbolism, fables, and cultural beliefs. I loved that.

Your novel landed on the USA Today Bestsellers list in December 2015. How did you respond to the news that The Girl Who Wrote in Silk has been so well-received among readers?

I still can’t believe it! This is a dream come true that I truly didn’t think could happen with my debut novel. My first response was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude because so many people had a hand in making this happen: my agent, editors, publicist, marketing team, sales team, everyone at Sourcebooks; all the independent bookstore owners who voted for my book so that it appeared on the Indie Next list, which directly led to readers learning about my book who otherwise wouldn’t have. And then there are the booksellers who read my story and hand sold it to customers; readers who wrote reviews online and told their friends about the book; other authors who told their readers about my story… Truly, so many people had a hand in this achievement and I am so grateful for each and every one.

What do you hope people gain from reading your novel?

I hope people find the story entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope they think about racial issues and how racism is still very much a problem, which I hope leads them to thinking how they might individually make a difference in their own community. I hope readers learn that there are fascinating stories in our history that still impact us today. Most of all, I hope my novel helps readers look at the people around them and see not the color of their skin nor their cultural trappings, but a fellow human with the need for love, joy, and connection.

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Thanks so much to Kelli Estes for this interview! You can follow Kelli at her website www.kelliestes.com, on her Facebook page, and Twitter. Her debut novel The Girl Who Wrote in Silk is available at Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

Guest Post: A “Little” Something Red for My Chinese-American Groom

I know a lot of you out there are already fans of the AMWF blog When West Dates East (written by the incredibly funny and smart young writer Autumn Ashbough). Here’s the story of how Autumn decides to honor her fiance’s heritage with a very little something red on their wedding day. That’s all I’m going to say about that — read on for the whole story!

Do you have a hilarious wedding story to share, or something else that you think should be on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn how to become a guest poster here.

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(Photo by _e.t via Flickr.com)
(Photo by _e.t via Flickr.com)

Like most brides, I got more than a few pieces of sexy lingerie at my bridal shower. Mesh merry widows, sheer nightgowns, several garters with blue, and even a red silk thong.

Now, I have never been a supporter of the thong. Nope. My politics are liberal, but my clothing is conservative. While I currently live in fashion forward, underwear-optional Los Angeles, I remain the Grand Champion of Excess Fabric. When turtlenecks are in style, I squeal and buy some in every color. (Sleeveless turtlenecks are also a godsend when you work in an over-air-conditioned office building with old, overweight white guys in suits.)

The giver of the red thong was one of my former coworkers. As I thanked her, I must have looked a little puzzled. She quickly explained that she thought it was appropriate, since red was the traditional lucky Chinese color. As I had not yet ventured into the AMWF cyber community, I nodded with the other clueless guests and filed that fact away for future reference.

My Chinese-American fiancé had a blast rummaging through my risqué gifts after the bridal shower. Andy picked up each item, examined it, and dropped it on the floor by the bed. He would then study the lingerie, nod, and say, “Yeah. That one’ll look great!”

But when he got to the red thong, he didn’t even take it out of the box. Andy just pushed it aside with a wistful sigh, because he knew there was no chance in hell I’d ever wear it.

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Like many first generation Americans, Andy had no interest in his Chinese heritage. His goal was to assimilate quickly. He stopped speaking Cantonese after learning it was useless in kindergarten. The only accent Andy retains is a smidgeon of the pidgin he grew up with in Hawaii. He picked up tennis, baseball, weightlifting, and dancing instead of martial arts. Even his car, a Ford Mustang Cobra, was aggressively American. (He also drove it in an unhealthily aggressive American style.)

Andy’s cousins were the same way. His Fashion Plate Cousin’s wedding was as American as you can get – church wedding, hotel reception, poofy white dress, and even a super white groom from Oklahoma. There was no cheongsam, no daughter-in-law tea ceremony – not even a hint of red in the accent colors.

Clueless white girl that I am, I did not, in fact, notice any of these cultural omissions at the time. Months later, however, when Andy and I attended the wedding of a Japanese-American couple, the ballroom contained a thousand golden origami cranes. While the rest of the wedding was thoroughly American, the bride’s nod to her Japanese heritage involved a year of folding thousands of gold foil cranes – with only the flawless ones displayed. These cranes were eventually made into beautiful designs, framed, and displayed in the couple’s home.

I stared up at the cranes and whispered to Andy, “We should do something like that for our wedding.”

Andy chortled. “Uh-huh. You can’t even fold dumpling wrappers. Good luck with that, honey!”

I elbowed him. “Not the cranes, babe. But something Chinese. The wedding is all…white.”

Andy knew my fits of inspiration often meant more work. Andy was instantly wary. “It’s fine.”

“Maybe the bridesmaids’ dresses…no, they’re already bought…so is my dress, the flowers match the bridesmaids’ dress…” I thought furiously and came up empty. Our wedding was in rural New Hampshire in the fall. There’s nothing remotely Asian for miles. “What if I try and find some kind of cake topper?”

“Your Ex-stepmother already gave you that engraved crystal bell that matches the engraved champagne flutes your sisters gave you.”

“Isn’t there some Chinese custom we could work in?”

“Red envelopes, honey,” Andy responded instantly. “Red envelopes with lots of cash will be just fine.”

And although I bugged Andy repeatedly about trying to work in some Chinese wedding customs, he stuck with red envelopes and refused to budge.

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A few weeks before our wedding, I came across a library display with Thousand Pieces of Gold, by Ruth Lum McCunn. I’ve always loved historical fiction, but when you grow up on the East Coast of the United States, most history is very Eurocentric. I’m always on the lookout to improve my California/ West Coast history, and I scooped up Thousand Pieces of Gold immediately.

Thousand Pieces of Gold tells the story of Lalu, a Chinese girl sold into slavery in 1871. Lalu goes from a Chinese brothel to an American slave merchant, is renamed Polly, and winds up in Idaho as the prize in a salon poker game. Polly regains her freedom, marries, and becomes an American frontierswoman.

The book was a nice escape from wedding stress. Polly’s hardships in the American West put my own wedding stress/ drama in perspective. My wedding shoes were lost? Hell, at least I had shoes! I was worried that my father walking me down the aisle would seem like an endorsement of the patriarchy? At least my father couldn’t ACTUALLY sell me when times were tough! (I have no doubt he would have. Also, I might have deserved it.)

But what struck me most, when I read Thousand Pieces of Gold, was this picture:

PollyBemis1894
Polly Bemis in her wedding dress, 1894.

Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, my favorite childhood heroine, Polly’s best dress – and therefore her wedding dress – was black. But unlike Laura, Polly was clad all in red underneath. Polly once explained that she was so happy on her wedding day that she just had to wear the Chinese colors of joy and good luck. So while her exterior was the somber, accepted American garb, underneath, Polly celebrated with her Chinese heritage.

And while it was too late to change any external décor at our overly white wedding, I had just the thing – or really, just the thong – to emulate the indomitable Polly Bemis.

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The post-wedding photography session at our wedding was interminable. There were photos of the enormous wedding party, and then of the enormous families. Well, my enormous family. Andy only had one set of family photos to take. I had three.

My smile faltered once we got to my Ex-Stepfather and his family. The photographer called out, “Your gums are showing, Autumn!” I lowered my upper lip while I tried to keep smiling. (Try it. I dare you.)

The photographer finally snapped the last shot and called for my Ex-Stepmother. As Ex-Stepmother and company arranged themselves around us, I dropped my smile and whimpered to Andy, “My feet are killing me. You?”

Andy whispered back, “My butt feels funny.”

I giggled. “Your butt? What’s wrong with your butt?”

“Aw, c’mon, honey. You are not alone. I got a red thong, too.”

“No!”

“Yes!”

Most of our wedding pictures are carefully choreographed, with careful smiles. But the one with my Ex-Stepmother and my Ex-Step-Grammy is a little different. In that particular photo, Andy and I grin like a pair of loons.

It’s my favorite.

loon

Autumn Ashbough is a White American woman who writes about the humorous perils of life with a Chinese-American significant other at When West Dates East.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Interview with Huan Hsu on His Memoir “The Porcelain Thief”

The Porcelain Thief

Journalist Huan Hsu has one of the most original reasons for going to China that I’ve ever heard – to find buried treasure. Or, more specifically, buried porcelain.

A visit to the porcelain collection at the Seattle Art Museum leads him to a conversation with his mother, who explains that Huan’s great-great grandfather Liu left a cache of highly valuable china buried deep in the ground decades ago in Xingang, Jiangxi. That ultimately inspires Huan to journey to China to discover more about this buried treasure by talking to family there. Starting with his grandmother in Shanghai, Huan meets more relatives and sees more of China than he ever expected – and in the process, collects valuable family stories and learns more about himself. Read all about it in his new memoir The Porcelain Thief.

The Porcelain Thief

The Porcelain Thief deftly combines Huan Hsu’s personal experiences, the family stories (which span the late Qing Dynasty up through the Chairman Mao era), and his quest for buried porcelain into one incredibly enlightening book. You’ll learn about Chinese history and culture, porcelain, and what it’s like to be Chinese American in China (one of my favorite quotes is “ABCs [American Born Chinese] got the Chinese treatment at foreigner prices.”), making this an exceptional and much-needed entry among China books.

I’m honored to feature Huan Hsu and The Porcelain Thief on Speaking of China through this interview.

Huan Hsu credit Martijn Van Nieuwenhuyzen
Huan Hsu (Photo credit: Martijn Van Nieuwenhuyzen)

Here’s Huan Hsu’s official bio from his publisher, Penguin Random House:

HUAN HSU, born in the Bay Area and raised in Salt Lake City, is a former staff writer for the Washington City Paper in Washington, DC, and the Seattle Weekly. He is the recipient of two Society of Professional Journalists awards and has received recognition from the Casey Foundation for Meritorious Journalism. His essays and fiction have also appeared in SlateThe Literary Review, and Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts. He currently lives in Amsterdam and teaches creative writing at Amsterdam University College.

I asked Huan about what it takes to gather family stories, his experiences as a Chinese American in China, why there are so few Chinese Americans (and other overseas Chinese) writing about China, and more about The Porcelain Thief.

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Your search for buried treasure ends up taking you not only to Shanghai, but also Taiwan as well as Beijing, Shandong and Jiangxi. Did you ever expect to cover so much territory in a quest for family stories and porcelain?

I did and I didn’t. I was extremely naïve about what my so-called quest would entail, but that was also somewhat by design, so that it could remain open-ended. I wanted to be able to indulge curiosities and get sidetracked and wander around and experience an authentic sense of discovery. When I first arrived in Shanghai, I didn’t even have a grasp of how many members of my grandmother’s generation there were, who was still alive, or where they lived. So other than Shanghai and Jiangxi, I had no idea where I would be going. And of course once I began to find my footing in China, I wanted to go everywhere. As I like to tell people, there is nothing not interesting about China. Every place in China seemed to promise a fascinating local history or connection to my family or porcelain. This was both reassuring, in that once I got a basic understanding of Chinese history and my family history, it provided an entry point into me to orient myself and contextualize new places (as well as a way of interacting with both the place and its people–I could just play the curious, amateur historian American-born Chinese, which is a pretty unimpeachable character for local Chinese), and also extremely frustrating. As an obsessive collector and a maximalist, I still feel that not being able to go everywhere, talk to everyone, and learn everything is something of a failure on my part. Anyway, I’m glad I was able to cover as much territory as I did, which offered a glimpse of China that, while terribly incomplete, was still more thorough and more unalloyed than many people get, even those who do visit China.

While you’re ostensibly searching for the family’s porcelain in your book, some of the greatest treasures you uncover are your family’s stories, which span the Qing Dynasty, Republican-era China, and Chairman Mao’s reign. I was impressed by how you managed to get so many of the family elders to share their experiences with you; I haven’t had much success coaxing my husband’s relatives to speak about the past and I speak fluent Chinese myself! Besides learning the language, what do you think was the key to getting family members to talk to you?

Haha, well, I’m pretty sure your Chinese is better than mine ever was. I’d like to think that my family members spoke freely with me (well, most of them–my grandmother remained reticent to the end) thanks to my skills as an interviewer. But it was probably mostly timing, both where they were in their lives and also where China was in its history. For example, my father helped transcribe most of my interviews with Fang Zhen Zhi. Though they had met in Beijing in the early 1990s, and despite being a fellow physicist and materials scientist, my father and Fang Zhen Zhi had never spoken about Fang’s work on the nuclear program or his persecution during the Cultural Revolution. My father remarked to me that even if he had asked, he doubted Fang would have talked about it because of the cultural and political climate in China at the time.

It also probably helped that I was often the first of my generation to pay them a visit, a demonstration of filial piety that was probably appreciated by these relatives. Of course, I couldn’t just show up and immediately ask them about the porcelain right away, so I naturally had to first get to know them. Once they got going about their lives, I often got so wrapped up in those stories that the porcelain seemed kind of inconsequential, and there wasn’t always a convenient way to slip questions about it into the conversation. But I did always ask, and made sure to bring it more than once to see what I might elicit.

Other than felicitous timing and a degree of persistence, I don’t know if there was any trick to getting family members to talk. I showed up for the porcelain, so learning about their experiences was already somewhat ancillary, and maybe that created an atmosphere where those ancillary experiences could be shared. And as I said, much of the family history was just part of the warm-up–my priority wasn’t what they talked about, just that they kept talking and got comfortable with me listening. And maybe because I was ostensibly pursuing the porcelain and also my grandmother’s story, who was a well-respected figure in the family, they felt that their stories weren’t the center of the conversation and those things could come up more naturally and by the time I pressed them about those stories it would have felt odd not to share. But in the end, they were the ones who had to decide they wanted to talk, and I don’t know their motivations. Maybe because they were all well advanced in age, and no one in the family had ever tried to get these family stories, they felt an urge to have them recorded. As Fang Zhen Zhi said, they had suffered but had lived honorable lives. They had little more to strive for, nothing to fear, and had accepted their histories. They were content. So why hold back?

One of the fascinating things about your story is it offers readers insight into the experience of being Chinese American in China. What surprised you most about your own experience as an American-born Chinese in China?

Probably how angry it could make me! I think of myself as a pretty relaxed person, and I think most people who meet me perceive me that way, but there was something about China that could just get under my skin so quickly. China can be confrontational no matter where you’re from, but with overseas Chinese it can feel very personal. Intellectually, I knew that it wasn’t personal, but it wasn’t until the end of my stay in China that I really accepted it. Until then, I found myself acting far more pugnacious than I ever thought I could be.

Maybe this is just how we deal with the dysphoria of being in a place that is at once very familiar and extremely foreign, hostile even. I think for me, I had spent basically my entire life establishing my American-ness and assimilating to a degree that my parents never did. I didn’t just think of myself as American, or feel American, I was American, plain and simple. And to my frustration, that was completely unacknowledged in China because of the way I looked–the Chinese still think of American as an ethnicity, not a nationality. That double standard drove me crazy. For a while, I seemed to be trying to civilize China one pedestrian or driver at a time and would almost go out of my way to create these confrontations.

I expended so much psychic energy trying not to get swallowed up or lost in the sea of other black-haired people. I didn’t even realize how much of a burden that was on me until I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. Many of my ABC friends have also since returned to the States, and I think they leave China with a similar sense of relief.

I guess there aren’t a lot of analogues for this situation in the United States. Maybe children of overseas missionaries who move back after many years abroad? I got to know an older guy in Shanghai who was born in China to missionary parents, then grew up in Taiwan after the civil war. He went back to the States as an adolescent and found it bizarre. He went to college in America, but for the past few decades has been back in China. That might not be an accident.

There was a soccer player here in the Netherlands recently, his parents are Dutch but he was born in Japan and grew up there. He’s a Japanese citizen, his friends are all Japanese, he plays for the Japanese national team. Dutch is his third language. His mannerisms are completely Japanese. He prefers Japanese food and Japanese women; his wife is Japanese. He even looks Japanese. You get the idea. After spending his whole life in Japan, he was signed by a Dutch team in 2011, when he was 24. Most of the news stories around that time covered the culture shock he experienced: how disrespectful and brash Dutch players were to coaches and each other, things like that. He recalled thinking these people–technically his people–were all crazy. He lasted three seasons in the Netherlands before going to a team in Portugal, where, I suppose, he could just be a regular expat.

(I’ve since heard from other expats that I was not the only one who used his umbrella as an excuse to “accidentally” hit people in China.)

I loved that one of your great-great-grandfather’s best legacies is educating women in the family (starting with his granddaughters, who he sent to Western schools) and ultimately being ahead of the times. One of your relatives in Jiangxi even owed their good fortune (they always received the latest appliances before everyone else) to this legacy, passed down to them through Si Yi Po, one of these educated granddaughters of Liu Fengshu. How did it feel to discover this about your family?

My great-great-grandfather sending his youngest daugther and then my grandmother’s generation to Western schools really resonated with me. But I think much of that resonance stemmed from some latent chong yang mei wai on my part. It initially mattered to me that my grandmother attended a sister school of Smith College not because it meant she was the rare Chinese woman with a college education, but because she had an American college education supervised by Americans, which, of course, meant she was properly schooled and civilized. I probably would not felt the same way if she had attended an all-Chinese institution. I know I was more impressed with my great grand uncle who graduated from St. John’s University in Shanghai than his brothers who graduated from some Chinese railroad school in Jiangxi.

Once I had a little distance, I appreciated my great-great-grandfather’s progressivism more on its own terms. It served to bridge the past in a way that made it feel much closer and comprehensible. But I’m not sure how progressive my great-great-grandfather really was about educating women at the moment my grandmother was going to school. I feel like that iconoclasm is largely appended in hindsight, a narrative propagated by my living relatives. My sense is that it was actually my great grandfather, Liu Ting Zan, who felt strongly about educating women, and that my great-great-grandfather was mostly an agnostic. It probably wasn’t until the war, during which he and his family depended on my grandmother and San Gu for financial and material support, that he gained an appreciation for educated women and women in general. But this might also be a narrative of my creation.

(Not that it matters, but the relative who talked about getting the latest appliances was in Shandong.)

You’ve written that few China books are authored by Chinese Americans. Why do you think this is the case? And what do you think it will take to get more books published about China from Chinese American (or other Overseas Chinese) authors?

I’m not sure, but it continues to puzzle me. You might have seen this story in the Washington Post recently. My first reaction was: yes, so true. My second reaction was: why didn’t a Chinese American write this? Why is China still usually interpreted through a white guy’s perspective (and it’s usually a guy)?

I should probably point out that there are Chinese Americans and overseas Chinese writing about China. If you look at the acknowledgments page of Evan Osnos’ new book, for example, you see plenty of overseas Chinese writers that he thanks. But of course these names are vastly outnumbered by non-Chinese writers. Much of it is probably due to raw numbers–Chinese Americans are still a fairly small minority, after all. It’s also hard to speculate on possible reasons without trafficking in stereotypes, but Chinese parents tend not to encourage their kids to pursue writing. (Chinese parents are not the only ones.)

Most of the ABCs I know are the children of the wave of immigration from Taiwan in the 60s and 70s, often with Kuomintang family ties and often with Christian backgrounds. So the parents already had an estrangement with the mainland, and while I think they valued staying connected to Chinese culture, that didn’t necessarily mean staying connected to China the country. The way da lu ren was used around me made me think the term referred to some lower caste of Chinese people, and it must have been somewhat bewildering when my generation of ABCs told our parents that we were moving to China. Like, wait a minute, we spent our whole lives working and saving and eating bitter so you wouldn’t have to live there! The religiosity might also mean they’re too preoccupied with the afterlife to give much weight to earthly pursuits like writing. Plus, America’s a big place and China’s far away and it’s probably natural that Chinese Americans are more concerned with issues closer to home.

Even without the religious component, it takes a certain degree of individualism (and narcissism, and probably stupidity) to believe you have something to say about something and to want to share it with strangers. And this is not a very Chinese impulse, nor is it in line with the expectations put on model minorities in America. My mother has a Chinese friend who married a Jewish guy, and this friend often ponders her identity vis a vis her husband’s and their son’s. After she read The Porcelain Thief, she remarked to my mother that the book highlighted just how American her son will be, because she could not fathom writing about family members with such honesty for public consumption. And China as a subject for writing might be considered familiar enough be be influenced by that cultural attitude.

I also have to acknowledge my own disinterest in China before starting on The Porcelain Thief. I know that for a long time, I would have aggressively rejected any insinuations to write about China. I would have thought, why should I write about China any more than any other person? There’s a certain level of denial that comes with believing in (or wanting to believe in) a post-racial world.

I have no idea what it will take to get more Chinese American voices in books about China. A friend of mine in the foreign service pointed out to me that the absence applies to foreign policy, too. The discussion of Chinese geopolitics is almost always the same cast of white guys commenting, and he thinks it’s a major reason why U.S. foreign policy towards China tends to be confrontational–there remains an inability to view China as a collection of individuals with varying motivations. The lack of empathy creates a simplistic understanding of “the other”–classic Ed Said-style Orientalism. And I think that strain of Orientalism is to some degree present in many stories about China that don’t come from people with Chinese ancestry, however enlightened and well-intentioned they might be. Maybe more Chinese Americans have to first come to see, as I did, that their hyphenated identity is a privilege rather than a burden.

What do you hope people come away with from reading The Porcelain Thief?

In general, probably the same thing that I hope to come away with when I read a book: some combination of being informed, entertained, and transported. Specifically, maybe to have gained a better understanding of a country that everyone knows about but remains something of a mystery for many, and the diversity of its people and history. China is a huge, complex, and real place made up of real individuals who all have his and her own desires and dreams and beliefs. I also hope readers laugh at the funny parts. And that they don’t fixate too much on the treasure. From the beginning, I intended this book to be a journey, so I hope people find a way to enjoy that part of it, too.

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Thank you so much to Huan Hsu for this interview! You can find The Porcelain Thief on Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

 

Guest Post: Chinese Culture Doesn’t Condone Extramarital Affairs, Yet I Had One

An anonymous Chinese-American man divulges the details of his one and only extramarital affair — an experience that has left him only more conflicted about what he has done. He wants your advice on what to do next. Read the story and then weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

I’ve edited this story carefully to avoid obscene or overtly suggestive language. That said, this is about an extramarital affair and certain sexual situations are implied or referenced. Therefore, reader discretion is advised.

Do you have a sensational story or other guest post that you’d like to see featured on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn how you can have your writing published here.

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(Photo by Tumisu via pixabay.com)
(Photo by Tumisu via pixabay.com)

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr. Fortunate. I will not use my real name, because what you are about to read will shock many of you and I am for certain going to incur much criticism and even condemnation from the readers. I use the name “Mr. Fortunate” because it is highly befitting of my station in life. The word “fortunate” denotes “lucky.” I consider myself very lucky because I am a middle-aged Chinese-American man living in the U.S. and have been married to a beautiful white Western woman for many years. We have several beautiful mixed race children. I have a great profession that is highly recognized in society. I earn a comfortable income and am almost debt free. We have good finances, good health, and a comfortable lifestyle. We have a home that is fully paid for. We even attend a Christian church to thank the Lord for his blessings. By all accounts, I have everything going for me and my family, and therefore I am considered to be very “fortunate”. Many of my peers, especially men, would probably view me and my family with much envy. Therefore, I am “Mr. Fortunate.”

The Debate Within Me

Despite enjoying this great lifestyle, the thought of having an affair with another Western woman crossed my mind several times, especially when the woman is pretty, friendly and open towards me. Many times I simply dismissed the idea and opted to be loyal to my wife and family, because I knew that cheating was just plainly wrong. The question of an extramarital affair crept up and nagged me from time to time for years now. I tried to suppress it every time as I know it is inherently wrong and evil.

Some men told me that they feel refreshed and validated knowing that they had an affair without being caught. They told me that there is a feeling of exhilaration that comes along with a sexual conquest from the extramarital affair and from not being caught. They recommended that I give it a try. I again dismissed these suggestions as such an affair is just wrong. But the curiosity remained within me year after year. The questions nagged at me and bothered me so much so over the many years that I finally succumbed. So one day I decided to cross the line just to see if it is as great as these many men who had affairs had told me.

Before I crossed the line and entered the “dark side” like Darth Vader in Star Wars, I debated this question for a very long time from within me before actually doing it. Why should I have an affair? I do not know exactly, but it was perhaps the allure of fun and games or perhaps the yearning for lust and sensuality. It was the self-satisfaction knowing that despite being a middle-aged man with wrinkles, a receding hairline, being slightly being overweight, and with some grey hair that I can still have a sexual conquest making me feel manly and young again. These men say that if one conquers a much younger woman, the feeling is even better than to conquer a woman of equal age or older. Also, it was perhaps the adrenaline rush that comes from the fear of getting caught, but yet being able to avoid being caught. The excitement derived from knowing that I can still have a woman on the side without being caught and the excitement from trying to avoid being caught made it very tempting. Some would say that my action was imprudent and unwise to put it mildly, while others who are harsher would condemn me as nothing more than a scoundrel or a low-life for betraying my wife and family. If discovered I can lose my wife, much of my wealth to a divorce, and face shame and dishonor in front of my family, siblings and parents. I can assure you that Chinese culture does not condone extramarital affairs. Finally, after much thought and debate I decided to go to the “dark side” just as Anakin Skywalker did before becoming the infamous Darth Vader in the Star Wars series. I wanted to see if it is as exhilarating as other men said.

Having decided go forward with having an affair, I tried to “test the waters” with several female acquaintances, and customers, or some females that I just met by flirting with them at first, but all efforts were to no avail. As is often the case, success does not come on the first several tries. It is persistence that pays. Having been turned down by a few females already, I just continued time and time again. Finally, one day the opportunity presented itself.

The Shocking Affair

(Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr.com)

One day a very pretty and friendly younger female customer (whom I shall call Mary) came to my office seeking my company’s services. As usual, I tried to use my social skills and personality to charm the customer into signing the contract to use our company’s services. We first talked about our family, life and other positive subjects. I opened by asking her to tell me about herself and so she did. She told me that she is from another country and came to the U.S. when she was a very young girl. She spoke English with a slight touch of an accent. She said she grew up in a fairly strict upbringing because her family is very religious and she did not have the opportunity to date before marriage. But she was fairly liberal because most of her life was spent in America. She only had one man in her life and this man eventually became her husband; they have been married for decades now. She has two children who are now in their teens. She appeared to have a great life: a husband, two beautiful children, a house, and a great income. Her station in life mirrored mine more or less. Her husband is very well to do and she helps him from time to time along with pursuing her own career by working for a nationwide company. She then asked me about my life.

I told her how I met my wife and about my family, my children, and my profession and she told me how she met her husband. I then did the sneaky thing by asking her whether she knows what was the perennial problem that almost all couples face when they have been married for so long. She answered by saying that she did not know and wanted me to tell her. So, I did. I said that the perennial problem is how to keep the romance and excitement strong and alive. I said that after many years of marriage, arguments break out, taking each other for granted, not communicating well and of course the sex and fun will start to dissipate unlike the time when a couple just met and the relationship was new. She agreed.

We had a very long and involved conversation at first about life and family in general and then I transitioned into topics which appealed to women most. I knew that in order to hook the woman I had to make a deep emotional connection with her to have any chance of seducing her. So, I avoided morbid topics such as death, mayhem, rape, religion, and politics as well as other mundane and boring subjects. I was told in the past by many men that women like to hear about “relationships and the unknown.” This was what I used to play her with. Little by little I escalated the conversation into more romantic and sexual suggestions such as how I met and seduced my wife and how I got her into bed with me. She laughed. Later I told her jokingly that I now have a “ball and chain” attached to my ankle and cannot go out anymore to have fun. So, the fun is over for this Chinese man.

She replied by saying, “You are such a coward now!” and she laughed.

So, I asked her a hypothetical question, “What if you had to go out alone for say a business lunch or dinner, will your husband approve?”

She replied, “Let me worry about my husband as I can take care of him and I am not a coward like you.”

Later after we finished our business transaction (i.e., she signed the contract) and it was time for her to leave my office, I suggested that we meet again one day for a business lunch or dinner as I would love to get more business from her in the future. As we all know taking a customer out for either lunch or dinner to get more future business is very common. She agreed but that it would have to take place when the weather is much warmer in the next few months. I then gently asked her with a sneaky smile on my face, “Would your husband allow you to go out alone, or would you like to bring him along to make it look legitimate?”

Mary replied once again, “Don’t you worry about him. You just worry about your wife and I will worry about my husband. I shall find a way to come out for the ‘business’ dinner.” I was elated beyond belief as I not only secured her business but also the chance to cheat and romance her.

Months passed and we exchanged only a few emails (using my secret email account that no one knows about under an alias to which no one had access to, not even my wife) and nothing happened until the opportune time came — summer. Summer is when the days are longer and the nights are warmer, a time when romance is in the air. So, I then contacted her by phone at work during working times to avoid suspicion; I used my office phone and not my cell phone to avoid any traces, and I used the alias Mr. Fortunate. I then talked to her and arranged for a date, time and place to meet her and pick her up in my car. I told my wife that I was going out on a business dinner and my wife trusted me as I had been out for business lunches and dinners before alone. My wife had absolutely no reason to doubt me this time. When having an extramarital affair, secrecy is key and thus I turned off my cell phone that night, disabled my GPS system, refrained from using texting, used false names and aliases, used pretexts to go out, and eliminated any traces of evidence. I trusted that she too was prudent enough to do the same. I arrived at the pre-designated rendezvous point over 20 minutes late and I was worried that she may simply have thought that I was too scared and that she may have left. But, then, there she was waiting for me!

“Hi Mary!” I greeted her with a big smile masking my secret heartfelt fear. I was nervous beyond belief but I had to act and hide it.

“Hi.” She smiled back at me. We embraced and together we entered my car.

I drove and I suggested that we go to a restaurant serving her country’s ethnic food for dinner. I assumed she would feel more comfortable eating the food she grew up with, and thus more comfortable with this whole affair (which was undoubtedly nerve racking for her as well). She said, “No. Definitely not.”

I asked, “What? Why not?”

She said, “Because there are too many people from my country who eat there and I am afraid to be recognized by my fellow countrymen. My husband and I do quite a bit of business in the community.”

I thought to myself, “Wow, she seemed rather well versed in affairs to be able to take steps to avoid detection.”

(Photo by JohannesW via pixabay.com)
(Photo by JohannesW via pixabay.com)

We ate at an American restaurant at a booth where the ambience was darker to reduce our chances of being seen. We enjoyed our steak dinner and the cost was quite pricy for me. As with any affair, there is a cost to taking the woman out for romance, aside from the emotional cost and other costs flowing from it if discovered. I paid in cash and not by credit card to avoid any traces. After dinner we went to a bar next to the beach. At this bar, we found a corner where we both sat adjacent to each other in the outdoor patio. She sat to my left and I was on her right. It was dark now and even less likely that others would see us. She drank alcohol but I did not. I refrained from drinking any alcohol not only because I do not drink it, but also because I wanted my mental and physical abilities to be at their best to be able to seduce her. Once again we talked about funny things and I avoided morbid topics and mundane subjects. After she had a large glass of alcohol, I could see that she was a little buzzed. As she laughed more and more and her tone was increasingly flirtatious with me, I knew the time had arrived for me to escalate. After I told her a joke and she laughed once again, I leaned inward to her and hugged her, and after the hug, I did not retract my left arm which was now around her back and perched on her left shoulder. Slowly but surely I slide this left hand down her back, where I left it. I felt completely turned on. We talked for hours and then it was time to leave. We walked to my car from the bar to the parking garage side-by-side and then when we arrived at my car, I opened the passenger car’s front door for her. She laughed loudly now and shouted, “I am so drunk now!” Then I leaned inward for a close kiss and she kissed me back passionately. Afterward, I started to drive her back to the original rendezvous point to drop her off for her to pick up her car. I suggested that we pull over to a darker place in a nearby residential area for a little more action. She agreed. So, I entered the neighborhood near the bar and parked under a tree where there was very little light. There we kissed again. I had my left hand up her dress and I even kissed her bare breasts. I wanted to escalate it even more and I suggested that she and I go to my house as my wife and kids were away that weekend. She rejected this idea. So, I asked her several more times and she once again rejected this notion. I told myself that there will be a next time when I will score. After this little fling I drove her back to her car and dropped her off. This was the end of our first encounter.

When I arrived at her car, I asked her if I could see her again. She said yes. We then parted ways. I left with an enormous feeling of success, just like many men who had affairs had told me about. I could hardly believe my luck now. I cheered and was elated beyond belief.

The next time I saw her was many months later. I once again picked her up at the same rendezvous point as before, taking the same precautions as usual. This time I wanted to go all the way with her, so I bought condoms. Also, this time my wife and children were out-of-state to visit my wife’s side of the family. No one was at home and thus I wanted to be bold by taking her to my bedroom. After dinner, I invited her to my place as I told her that my wife and children were not at home. She was reluctant at first but now she trusted me enough. So, she came to my house. She drank some alcohol at my house and I refrained from any drinking for the same reasons as above. I asked her to tour my house and walk around with me. She complied. When I had her in my bedroom, I knew it was a great opportunity and I tried to get her clothes off. We started making out and things were going extremely well. I was about to achieve an enormous feat because there she was, lying naked on my bed, ready to have me.

Then suddenly things went awry!

My excitement faded as I started to feel remorseful. The pictures of me, my wife and children were dangling above the bed. My wedding photos were there. I just could not muster the strength or courage to do this. I felt that I had betrayed my wife and the wedding vow that I had taken many years ago by promising to be faithful and loyal. Mary asked me, “What’s wrong?” I had to lie to her by saying I couldn’t do it because I had gotten too excited and now had to change my underwear. This was absolutely not true!

She was disappointed in me. She was upset and rightfully so, because there she was, lying naked on my bed (since she trusted me enough to come to my house and into my bedroom) only to be let down in the end. I drove her back to her car that evening and we barely talked on the way there. After she left in her car, I simply emailed her the next day to thank her and inquired whether she had made it home safely. She answered my email by thanking me and said she made it home safely. Since then I have not contacted her in any way, shape, or form. I simply disappeared from her life and she disappeared from mine.

Afterthoughts

After the affair, I started to carefully reflect on what I did. I questioned why I did what I did. At times I felt terrible for betraying my wife and the wedding vow. At other times I felt validated that I still had the ability to seduce a younger, pretty girl. I just cannot believe that I had the woman naked on my bed and then at the moment of truth, I was not able to perform. How pitiful! I still have mixed feelings about it to this very day. Not only did she no longer speak to me, but she did not give me any more business. So, I had two losses: Mary and her business. I remind myself that I have not lost everything though as I still have my wife and children, my fortunate lifestyle, and the “great” memory from the affair. I still have two questions that remain unanswered to this day:

1) Should I confess to my wife about the affair and take the consequences or should I remain silent?

2) If I remain silent, should I do it again with the same woman or another woman so as to get the long sought after fulfillment which I did not get due to my pitifulness, or should I simply quit while I am already ahead?

Dear readers, please advise me as I am still very torn right now.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Three Words From a Chinese Father

(photo by somecanuckchick via Flickr.com)

Almost two months ago, while scanning through my inbox, I came across a post called How to be Mistaken for a Prostitute in China. What a title — and what dazzling writing. I devoured the entire post, right down to the byline introducing the author and her forthcoming memoir about her experiences in China.

That’s how I first discovered Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, and I’m thrilled to be sharing her essay with you, titled “Three Words From a Chinese Father”. 

Dorcas’ story revolves around something I’ve touched upon in the past — how Chinese families show their love through actions, not words. She explores this as she looks back on her relationship with her late father, a man who had never told her “I love you”.

Thanks so much to Dorcas for contributing her work! 

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“I miss you,” my father said to me over the phone.

I hadn’t seen him for four days. He had been in the hospital for more weeks than I could keep track of, and had recently been transferred to a specialist hospital about an hour away from home. I was only a freshman in high school at the time, so I had to attend school during the week and could only visit him on weekends. My mom spent most nights at the hospital with him while I stayed home alone.

My surprise lasted only a couple seconds, during which I became very still and swallowed hard. “I miss you too,” I choked out, holding back tears. They were the three most significant words my father had ever said to me.

When he passed away less than a month later, they became the most significant words he would ever say to me. He had never said “I love you” to me. That night was the first and only time he ever told me he missed me.

My father had never been a man of many words. He left that to my mother, the chatty, extroverted half of the pair. For years I barely understood what he did for a living. All I knew was that he was an engineer, which in my young mind meant one thing: trains. I imagined my dad driving steam engines across the back roads of America, always somehow returning home in time for dinner. (He was, in fact, an electrical engineer.) I certainly knew nothing about his childhood in Guangdong Province in China, the few years he spent there before the realities of the new Communist regime prompted his family to send him away to Hong Kong.

I’m sure being the only male in a family with three women—his wife and two daughters—didn’t help. My father would often escape to the garage to tinker with small pieces of technology—a circuit board, a watch, a cassette player. He would take a Chinese-language novel with him to the bathroom or bedroom and remain out of sight for hours. Or he would park himself in front of the television to watch a San Francisco 49ers football game.

By the time I was ten, I had become an obsessive 49ers fan. It had started from curiosity, from a young girl’s intangible desire to connect with her father, but it soon became my own passion. I would pepper my dad with questions about the rules, about certain plays, about this player or that coach. He didn’t seem to mind having his younger daughter impose upon his weekly ritual; I suspect he secretly relished it. We fueled one another’s passions for the sport to the point where we drove my mother and sister a little nuts with our single-minded devotion. I promised my dad that as soon as I was old enough to work and earn money, I would take him to a 49ers game.

I began following my father into other arenas of his life. When my mom and sister went shopping for clothes at the mall, I would go with my dad to the bookstore. I watched with awe as he practiced his pseudo kung fu moves with a wooden rod from a closet. I often stood behind his chair with my chin resting on his head as he and my mom lingered after a meal.

He enjoyed telling corny jokes at the dinner table, jokes that often made my mom groan and roll her eyes. I would always laugh loudly at his jokes, even when I didn’t understand them, and was rewarded by a knowing, just-between-us grin that my dad would send across the table. In those fleeting moments, I may not have understood what he meant, but I felt like I understood him.

It’s hard for me to explain why I felt this way. In many regards my dad was the stereotypical Chinese father. He didn’t trouble himself with the day-to-day details of raising two daughters. He wasn’t the type to shower us with hugs or kisses. He wasn’t the one we went to when we were in need of parental advice. Looking back, I can’t remember a single conversation of deep significance that I had with my father.

But this is what he did do: on one of the rare occasions he cooked dinner for the family, he made salt-and-pepper prawns with so much salt and pepper that my sister and I were raving about it for weeks. (My mother promptly scolded him and switched us back to bland, low-salt food the following day.) He sincerely thanked my sister and me every time we gave him yet another striped tie for Christmas. He watched Beauty and the Beast and other Disney movies with me. He let me into his world and the things he loved on a regular basis. But he just didn’t let me in; he welcomed me and let me know—somehow, without words—that he was delighted to be sharing these things with me.

And finally, just weeks before we had to say goodbye forever, he overcame thousands of years of cultural norms and said aloud what he actually felt: “I miss you.” At the time none of us thought he wouldn’t make it; we were convinced that a cure or a miracle was just around the corner. I wonder, though, if my dad knew he was running out of time, which is why he chose to give me what remains one of my most precious memories of him all these years later.

Those are not the three words that we typically think of in American culture. “I love you” has taken on the status of myth and legend, three tiny words with the power of giants to slay or fairy godmothers to bring enchanted happy endings. We wonder if any relationship can ever feel authentic or complete without these words. Even I have occasionally fallen into this trap.

My dad never told me he loved me—at least, not in words. In the end, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I knew he loved me. And with each passing year that he’s not in my life, I know it with even more certainty.

I miss you too, Daddy.

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Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer and editor who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is currently writing a memoir about her experience as a Chinese American living in Shenzhen, China. Learn more at www.transformativewords.com or follow her on Twitter: @dorcas_ct.

Saluting Blogs Written By Asian Men

(Screenshot from http://www.angryasianman.com/)

Since it’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month here in the US, I didn’t want to miss this chance to give a shout out to blogs I follow and link to written by Asian men. Since this is by no means an exhaustive list — and I’m always looking for more great reads — please comment in on your favorites so I can add them to my reader! Continue reading “Saluting Blogs Written By Asian Men”

Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese-American Woman Seeking Boyfriend/Husband in China

Michelle Guo (photo from http://itsmichelleguo.wordpress.com/about/)

For this week’s Ask the Yangxifu column — which features a question from a Chinese-American woman — I decided to turn to Michelle Guo (who was featured in the post I ran a couple of weeks ago called Double Happiness: How One Chinese American Woman Married a Chinese National) for answers. She blogs about expat life in Beijing and social media tips at her site. Thanks to Michelle for stepping in to answer this question!

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E asks:

I’m a 2nd generation Chinese-American, and I’d like to expand my boundaries and look for a possible boyfriend (or husband) in China.

Although most of your posts are aimed primarily at Western women who aren’t Chinese, I was wondering if the same rules applied for Chinese-Americans, or if things get even more complicated from there. I’m afraid that native Chinese people will look down on me for numerous reasons, such as my not being able to speak Chinese (however I am learning Mandarin), my not-typical-Chinese-girl looks (short hair and a naturally more curvy figure), my not-typical-Chinese-girl attitude (I tend to have a more Western mindset, however I do enjoy many Chinese cultural things and am proud of my Chinese heritage), and the fact that my own parents were not born in China.

Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated! Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese-American Woman Seeking Boyfriend/Husband in China”

Double Happiness: How One Chinese American Woman Married a Chinese National

Alex and Michelle Guo visiting San Diego, California, USA (photo courtesy of Michelle Guo)

Chinese American Michelle Guo — a fellow blogger and personal friend — shares her story of how she went to China and ended up marrying Alex, a man from Henan Province.

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Four years ago when I first came to Beijing, locals asked me what brought me back to China. The question always threw me off, since I was born in Portland, spent most of my life in California, and had never been to China before. I’m Chinese-American and was raised by my mom, who is anything BUT a traditional Chinese parent. My values, thinking, and culture are very Western, which is why I assumed that whoever I married, no matter what ethnicity, would also be American, or at the very least a Westerner.

Sometimes it’s really, really nice to make the wrong assumption. Continue reading “Double Happiness: How One Chinese American Woman Married a Chinese National”