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Friday, April 30, 2010

South China Morning Post A17 April 30 2010

My op-ed supporting the Mui Wo school ran today on page A-17--written on behalf of the South Lantau Education Support Group. South China Morning Post.

Hope it does something. A lot of times I hated being a journalist because there was often a product placement angle, or some line you had to tow. But this article makes me feel okay about doing some work for the press...a bit...

Maybe more in the future...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Recommended Reading: Anita and Me by Meera Syal

This is a very good book and perfect for those who find themselves frustrated by the lack of humor in some Asian American fiction. So refreshing to read this. My thought: Why don't more Americans know about this book?

Thinking a lot about childhood and what kids retain and patterns of behavior that become ingrained. People are imperfect. And then I had an interesting discussion last night with a friend, about how people choose their parents. Whether or not you believe this, or whether or not this is true, this is a provocative and yet coolly analytical way of looking at your own childhood. Take this idea and you may forgive more, understand more, and put your entire upbringing in a different perspective.

My early childhood was a good one, much better than most. My mother rarely raised her voice (she is softspoken--unlike loudmouth me, poor Keohi) and never spanked us. She taught me to read and encouraged an intense exploration of creativity and art. She also made great food and passed on her love of books, of escape, of imagination. My father was also devoted, and in those days had lots of time for me. I think I was spanked a few times (much to my mother's horror), but I only remember once after which time he was the one who cried and told me he loved me. Later he came home with a wooden hand he bought from the airport that said "Dad's Helping Hand." It was for whacking kids, but Dad's English was such that he thought it was a fine thing for his daughter to simply hang up, because yes, I was Dad's Helping Hand...:) Anyway, to digress, in my younger years, he took me to the zoo every weekend, where I ate Cracker Jacks and he tied a balloon to my wrist. My mother would sing the same Xmas carol with me 33 times in a row. My dad did math problems with me for hours on end. They were, and are, amazing parents. We talk a few times a week by skype. I wish they were here to see Keohi grow up in person.

Sure, there was the inevitable rebellion and disappointments, the misunderstanding and differences, but I have long realized just how lucky I was. In many ways my childhood was what would now be deemed unusual. I was never subjected to poverty, abuse, alcohol consumption and the behavior that it can provoke, massive cigarette smoke (though when I was very small, they did smoke, but I don't remember the smell, so clearly not often), and they held aspirations for me, stressed ideas of tolerance, equality, and democracy (yes, my parents experienced the civil rights movement). They believed in education and constantly encouraged the acquisition of knowledge. They were people who wanted to be parents. I was lucky. Very very lucky.

Thanks Mom and Dad....

Stephen and I try our best, and I hope that Keohi takes away some good memories of his early childhood. They can get you through some rough and lonely spots in life...parents can drive you crazy when you're a young person, but real parents are are there for you. Rock solid. Unlike many people, I never ever remember being the parent for my parents. I realize now that you have to decide what kind of parent you want to be, or aspire to be. The way my parents were when I was very small--that's how I'd like to be for Keohi--a parent who is a parent. This is not a parent who acts like a kid and marvels at the kid's wisdom and maturity. That's not being a good parent. That's making your kid be the parent. I'm talking about someone who will be there when it gets tough out there...

Someone who tells you how to deal with that bigot. ("Call him ignorant!" Uhm...he's 6?)

How to deal with that bully. ("Tell him he's a...a...COMMUNIST." Well, it was Cold War time:) and then finally "You're going to judo class starting next week." That worked. More on that adventure later...never ever bullied after punching Robbie Alley. Robbie, are you out there?)

How to deal with people who are simply not easy to deal with. ("Ignore them.")

Reading Anita and Me reminded me of some parts of childhood: Dealing with people who embrace stupidity and expect you to conform! Torturous! AUGH! Anyway, life isn't easy and every now and then, it's good to hang onto a rock. And if your rock is your home, or your parents on some level, it means something. Rocks are imperfect, but they are always there...


Friday, April 23, 2010

Two Years Mui Wo

Two years ago Keohi and I began our journey from Memphis, Tennessee to Mui Wo, Lantau. My father accompanied us, so we got a total of 5 pieces of luggage here. And then several days later, Dad left Mui Wo with me crying and waving him goodbye as the taxi pulled out of the dusty circle by the garbage dump in front of Luk Tei Tong.

Residents observed. The old folks. After all, it's a small town...their opinions can only be surmised, but Stephen and I always say it probably went something like this:

Old Woman: Yeah, she's sad, but he's got to go. No choice. Have to leave her here in Mui Wo.

Old Man: What is she?

Old Woman: Not Chinese. Well, maybe. Well, if she is Chinese, she doesn't speak it. Shame on her. Shame on her family. Shame on that father, that father leaving her here.

Old Man: She's not Chinese. She's Japanese.

Old Woman: This is what the village has come to. (spit, spit.) Now we have some Japanese here. Doesn't anyone remember WWII? They killed the entire--

Old Man: Shut up old woman. I don't know. Who knows what they are. What she is. But from what I hear, she's married to that gweilo.

Old Woman: Of course she's stuck with him! You get too old, you're stuck with a Westerner. She's old! No choice!

Old Man: Actually, Lee over there says he heard she's Korean.

Old Woman: That's not so bad.

Old Man: Wouldn't leave my daughter with some Westerner. No pride.

Old Woman: Like I said. No choice. Probably something was wrong with her!

Old Man: Lot of people moving in. That's all I can say.

Old Woman: What do you think she pays in rent?

The End...

So two years on. We're installed here in Mui Wo, in Sun Lung Wai Village. And no, growing up, I never imagined that I would be living in a small village in rural Hong Kong and getting around on a bicycle with a kid and a British husband. Then again, what does one imagine growing up in Iowa as a Korean American via Hawaii/Seoul? This world displaces many people and we are flung all over the globe living in places we could never fathom as children. So I think to myself, what will Keohi be doing so many years from now? What continent will he live on and where will his fate take him? Then I think, wherever that is, he will always carry a memory of this small place on the South China sea.

Last night we were doing our late night cruise due to an afternoon nap and watched the village drummers and lion dancers. Such longing in his voice: "Mommy, I want to see the drumming. See the dum-dee. I want to be an Uncle!" So he pulls up his training wheel bike and we watch from the sides by the old Mui Wo rec center, and he claps and moves his head back and forth, mimicking the movements of the lion and jumps and clashes imaginary cymbals. I was obliged to do some fake drumming myself due to Keohi's demands.

Did some hard thinking about this all, role modeling in general. His father is British, but Keohi is half-Asian, so it's good for him to also see Asian men and have other role model images, particularly in the absence of my father's regular presence. And these uncles are doing exciting things! Yeah, I'm not keen on his intense curiosity about these uncles' cigarettes as he's seen plenty dangle from the corner of mouths and asks about that, but I like that he sees local men engaged in an artistic and athletic form. It's important for images of masculinity.

And then I think of my own childhood and female role models. Back in Iowa, I didn't see a lot of images of aunties jumping around with dragons on their heads. I did have an Iowan cowgirl type of horseback riding teacher though, and then there was the Korean dance teacher. But she wasn't pushing me to jump around so much, although to be fair, Korean dancing has a lot more action than the Japanese folk dancing which is fairly staid and quiet. I learned fan dancing. To this day, I can open and shut a fan very nicely and quickly. This fan dancing has been a useful skill that has been used on a daily basis for the last 30 years:) No, I actually do cite it as a crucial point to my awareness of cultural pride, so I'm glad I did it. It's important to have knowlege about the art form of one's cultural heritage.

And the Koreans, they love drums. I'll have to get some from Korea for Keohi--they are quite spectacular and in Korea, the women drum. A lot. Hey, uncles--where are the dragon and lion dancing ladies?

But it was the summer I went to Seoul and saw a Kung fu movie with the Kung Fu woman jumping and kicking in a pink outfit with long black hair that made a huge impact on me and led me to study the martial arts. You need role models. Role models that you physically resemble to reinforce ideas of what you can and cannot do.

So drum on and dance, uncles. A little boy Korean American British boy with the Hawaiian name of Keohi is watching...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mui Wo School: The Real Deal

The children of South Lantau need a school. The majority of them have a long commute--some up to 2.5 hours one way. The population and birth rates here are very high compared to that of HK as a whole. The entire demographic of this area has shifted in the past 5 years (or less). There is an empty secondary school site, a drug rehab college wants to use this. But locals should have priority over an outside private institution and have applied to use this site several times. Again they are trying.

Not even sure why this is even a debate for some...very silly, really. Completely impractical if you look at it objectively. Of course the school should be used for the local community first...

Monday, April 12, 2010

What I am Reading and Childhood Anxiety

My current list of reading:

--Old issues of NY Review of Books
(subscription lost for a few the wilds of Sun Lung Wai Village...)

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

--A paper on Macau's relationship to China in terms of government policy. Proofreading this for work.

--a bit of Asian American lit crit...

--new issue of Brain, Child magazine

Will soon start:

Anita and Me by Meera Sayel

rereading Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain


Application for academic programme. Mostly amassing paperwork.


Having thoughts about voice and humor in literary fiction; therefore have halted a bit. I need to ponder this more. Shift...shift...the longer I live away from the US, the more I rethink ideas of national and ethnic identity.

Keohi and Childhood Anxiety

Intense stranger anxiety due to a few incidents of being scared with alleged strangers. He's 3 now. So he'll remember the time where he realized the world was not what he thought it was. He's had a bad few weeks whenever he sees strange adults. The awareness of vulnerability due to size. A loss of trust and innocence. Growing up is hard.

And the memory at this age is intense. Today I sat and watched as he pushed his cars around the parking lot he created on the sofa and recited from memory the book of Korean folktales. Intense. Word for word. Amazing to watch a brain unfold, the power of the human mind as it grasps ideas and images. He's been doing this type of memory exercise for well over a year. Last summer we read Curious George and he can still recite sections of this book back word for word. It makes you realize the level of absorption that a brain has at this age and what it will retain and that whatever it sees, hears, touches--it will remember. Maybe forever.

I never remember memorizing books as a child, though like everyone a few phrases remain. Robert Louis Stevenson's book A Child's Garden of Verses is in Keohi's library now, it was in my own and I still see the scribble marks over the illustrations for the poem that begins: "Dark brown is the river, golden is the sand..." I hear my mother's voice reading. She saved all the books from our childhood library. Boxes and boxes of them. And I remember dancing around the room as a toddler to Mozart, courtesy of Dr. Spock and my ambitious mother. To this day, when I hear the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I am taken back to early childhood. And the A minor #11 Mozart--I feel strangely relaxed. This music--the sounds from a stereo blasting from the family room basement in Iowa growing up, my dad singing to Luciano Pavoratti and the chords from La Traviata. I put the Mozart on over Easter weekend while Stephen worked on his puzzle and Keohi was playing on the sofa and the sense memory was eerily familiar for me. Quiet moments of individual contemplation together. Nice. No computer. No TV. Just activities. Time warp.

A few nights ago Keohi wouldn't sleep, so at midnight, I finally said, okay, I'm going to sleep. You can sleep in the bed with me, but right now, I'm reading. Keohi reads and Mommy reads. But solo reading, okay? I'm not reading your book. You read it. I'm reading my book. You read the horse book on your own. (This is after 30 minutes of me reading to him. So I had reading burnout). To his credit, he recited/read the entire horse book and I got 10 minutes of reading in on my own. Hooray!

I remember long hours reading side by side with my mom. In fact, I'd say mom was the reason I became a reader. She dragged me to the library all the time and read to us every night. And I'd order a lot of those scholastic books from the booklist thanks to dad who'd never heard of this before he came to the US and thought ordering paperback books was a kind of academic American miracle. And then, most intensely, was the displacement I had as a young child constantly moving due to my father's military duty. I once complained I had no friends and my mother told me that if I read, I would always have friends, that books were friends.

She was right. After all, books can save you. (Unfortunately, there are some who have been saved from one particular book and it is due to their misinterpretation of it and therefore I emphasize that books, not ONE book, can save you).

Can't always count on a person. But you can count on a book. For knowledge, guidance, entertainment, insight, art...the world there between the pages.

Signing off...zzzzzz. Yes. Read the Byatt book. And don't even talk to me if you don't like it.