Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014

Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014
Admiralty, Umbrella Revolution 2014

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gods

Feeling somewhat obliged to continue the on and off discussion we've been having since Keohi was about 18 months about gods and ghosts, I offered this up, given it is Christmas season:

Steph: So, Christmas, some people think, is the birthday for a baby. Uhm...some people believe this is a birthday for a god. They think that this baby Jesus is a god. Other people believe in the gods like you see in Tai Tei Tong square in the temple.

Keohi: And I believe in Zeus and the gods.

Steph: Oh...ok. (I had forgotten about our discussion of Zeus. But let's face it. The Greek gods are pretty exciting. Sort of like superheros, after all.)

Keohi nods...memory of the recent story of Hercules is clearly more interesting than any discussion of Jesus or the gods of Tai Tei Tong village temple. Fair enough. Hercules, depicted by Disney, that is...in the storybook that contains various stories inspired by Disney movies. Stephen hated Mickey Mouse and the Beanstalk. (Keohi has not been to Disney. It is a non-subject in our household.) The Disney book has been removed from his bookshelf.


Keohi: But why is Hercules showing his nipples?

Steph: Because he isn't wearing a shirt.

Keohi: You think he feels cold without a shirt?

(This is an indirect reference to Tarzan. Once inside, Keohi's latest thing, actually until the past few days, has been to peel off all of his clothes down to his undies, beat his chest and declare he is wearing a loincloth and that he is Tarzan. However, given that his Santa Claus outfit was just pulled out today, we may be leaving that character behind. He tried to go to bed in his complete Santa outfit plus big bag of toys over his pajamas.)

Steph: Yeah, I'm sure he gets cold.


Religion 101 conversation over...potentially revisited at a later date...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lick Hang Boyz in the Hood

Here's a picture I took today of Keohi with his pals biking in Tai Tei Tong square, as they often do, in the late afternoons during the week. They were having fun, racing bikes, pretending to be astronauts, yelling and shouting, swapping helmets and running, as the old grandmothers and grandfathers looked on, and their child minders (myself included) called out: "Do not crash into each other!" There was a good deal of dodging swerving bikes, the usual water bottle break, Baa Siti and myself telling the boys not to jump on and off the ping pong table, and the chaos that ensues when another boy hops on his bike and rides over to join the fray.

Respectively, the boys are Keohi, Marvin, and Ace, all of them in the K2 class in Lick Hang Kindergarten, a 30 second walk from the square.

Looking at this picture, as we approach the end of the year, I feel more assured that we made the right decision for our son to attend the local kindergarten next to our house. Every parent has a different idea of what type of educational experience she wants for her child (or his, but am using the feminine pronoun here...). They also anticipate through their choices, a certain educational outcome. This picture is a reminder that for Keohi, I hope, it will slowly come together and unfold in a positive way. We wanted him to speak Cantonese. We wanted him to have local friends. It's happening...slowly.

It has not been an easy situation for him or for us as a family. We've had our ups and downs about the entire educational process because of his personality, because of our backgrounds, because of our ideas that we practice and hold about how a child's education and life should unfold. But, we made the decision very early on in our house, that since we live here in Hong Kong, he must learn the local language. This would be key to him feeling that this was his home.

And, significantly, but often forgotten in such discussions about children and language, while this was a British colony, it no longer is. As a result, there are a wide range of feelings about the position of English speakers in this city. The relationship between the native speakers and non-native speakers of English is complex, and part of this complexity is Hong Kong's colonial past. English is the currency for those who aspire to a certain economic class and job, but it is still a Cantonese society (Mandarin, of course, the national language) and Cantonese, as complicated, impossible, and difficult as it is to learn, for an outsider, is what the locals speak.

I see from this picture, that slowly, that Keohi's sense of belonging to a community is taking hold. This is a good thing. Through language, he is becoming part of a community, in a way his parents will never be able to claim membership. And through him, we too, as a family, are slowly being pulled along. With a British father and a Korean American mother, and a household that speaks English only, if not breathes in English, (we're both writers), it would be easy for Keohi not to speak a word of Cantonese. (His father speaks more than I do. I've had and still do get lessons, but my Cantonese is abysmal.) I hope with the knowledge of this local language, he will take something more, something I will probably not understand or even comprehend, from his childhood here in Hong Kong. Language, is how we define who we are, what the world is, understand life...Expression...

I see this photo and think how lucky he is to share his childhood surrounded by linguistic diversity. In this picture are two friends, Marvin, a local, who speaks Cantonese and Mandarin and some English, and his other pal, Ace, an expatriate child who speaks Bahasa Indonesia and English (Scottish parent). Front and left, there's Keohi--the monolingual English speaker, (with a few words of Korean and Hawaiian).

As an expatriate American (four generations via Hawaii, Korean American) with an Asian ethnic background, and one who has worked extensively in education, contrary to general perception, I had and still do have complicated feelings when it comes to the differences in local and international or Western schooling systems. While Mandarin is the national language and undoubtedly important, we live in Hong Kong and Cantonese is the language of this city's people, not Mandarin. To be a part of the rhythm and life of this city and this region of the world, to call this province, this city, this village, his home, to understand what his early childhood was about, he needed, I felt, to have a basic command of the language. That said, I know why many people do not choose a local school for their children, for any number of reasons. It's hard. It's different than what we know in the West. Part of me worries about the unknown outcome of a system I know to be so polar opposite of my own educational ideas, but for now, at least, I know it was the right choice for him.

No matter where he ends up in the world, he can look back at his early childhood, and know that he belonged, in a profound and powerful way, to a little village on the South China Sea. Why? Because the language you speak, is often the language of your home. And as much as expatriates wander and travel, knowing you have a home is a very important thing indeed. It gives you the power to leave it. The power to return and better it. The power to understand who you are, and the world you belong to. Hong Kong, for now, is this.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reading and Writing

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

Really interesting and accessible book. Creative and thoughtful. I must recommend.

The Chomsky-Foucault debate on Human Nature

Would rather have read this with someone else. This belongs in the category of books you need to read with another person so that you can discuss the ideas. Reading this alone does not allow for the same kind of synthesis and dynamic experience.

Writing: I am behind. But I need to read more -- before I write anymore.

What else? Lots of VERY BAD chick lit books for my chapter on chick lit. I actually cannot believe HOW BAD some of this stuff is... I can't even get through it. It's really painful. How can people publish this stuff? Let me put it this way: Bridget Jones Diary reads like the poetry of Keats if I compare it with the stuff I am reading.

Reading old editions of Oxford American. Some good writing. Especially from the old classic Southern writers--Flannery and the like.

Also for mental health escape--my Poetry magazine subscription. I've been reading poetry to escape chick lit (now this says something, I know), lit crit, online news, and life in general.

My entire life, when I have fled the rigidity of logic, I have turned to poetry for some respite and mental health....entering again, one of those phases...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lazy Sunday Diving at the Mui Wo waterfall

Well, one of the reasons I like living in Mui Wo definitely happened today. I was so tired, but any attempted nap was thwarted by Keohi throwing pillows at my head, stacking blankets in a pile and jumping on them from the bed. So much for lazy Sunday afternoons. I have hazy soft focus memories of this Sunday indolence, but it's not happening with a 4 year old. So we decided to head up to the waterfall instead. Keohi packs up his scuba diving gear and we hop on the bikes and go. No car seats, no shopping mall destination, just a bike and a walk and we're there. Tried to explain that scuba diving at the waterfall was probably not so easy, managed to convince him not to use the fins, but that was about it. He put on his wetsuit top, kept on the corduroy pants and T-shirt, and stuck the snorkel in his mouth and mask on his face. The HK tourists were looking a bit, but given that many show up with serious winter hiking outfits (wooly socks, big vests with deep pockets for provisions etc...) in the middle of the summer, they took it all in stride. Keohi had a good diving session, then met a fellow villager who told me she read the blog. Miracle. Someone out there reading it. Nice to know sometimes you are just not writing into the Black Hole of Cyberspace...

Oh yeah...so I wanted to comment, as I often do, about childhood or aspects of child rearing based on what is happening with Keohi. Since this blog will mostly serve as his own record of what was happening in the far future, I figured that's fair enough. At least he can know my perspective on things and what and how I attempt to negotiate his childhood as his parent.

Bullying...

OK, this hasn't really come up yet much. Not that much...there was a little incident yesterday though, so I have been thinking about it... He's still in the preschool phase of life, but I suspect it may rear its ugly head much earlier than one would suspect here.
I really can't stand it and cannot let it go as simply a normal aspect of childhood.

Bullying is damaging to the victim. As an adult, I know that bullies are often very troubled children who have learned this type of behavior due to their surroundings and express their own hurt through aggressive behavior, but as a former victim of bullying, I really think parents need to look out for signs of bullying and call bullies and/or bullies parents' out on this. It's not about learning to tough it out on the playground. Most kids need the support of their parents to help them through this type of challenge. They might be provided with tools about how to talk to or how to avoid a bully, when to involve a teacher or adult, or a little physical self-defense (for all those who suspect their child may get bullied, I strongly advise martial arts lessons--it teaches physical self-confidence. I'm biased, I did it and taught it, but it's true, it can help smaller kids navigate a tough playground)

Within the situation of bully and victim is also the possibility of a third very important player--the empathetic child. The empathetic child will see what is happening and may also learn an important lesson about human power struggles and relationships. Empathy is one of the most important and difficult skills or qualities to cultivate in a child. Sympathy is quite different, though also necessary to have as a developed rounded person. An empathetic child, is a compassionate child--one who will learn and understand what it means to be human, what it means to participate in the grand scheme of human relationships. An empathetic child will think about community and groups quite differently, and is most likely to develop a one on one relationship that is based on a mutual understanding. Empathy means you can not simply see, but you feel what the other person is thinking or going through. To be empathetic, however, is to make yourself vulnerable to the difficulties and troubles of humankind, which may be painful, but think of what kind of society we would have if we were all a bit more empathetic? The third player, is often the friend of the victim or simply stands in solidarity with the victim or who also, in the worst case scenario, also suffers with the victim, as he or she knows what the victim feels.

When I was a kid, part of the reason I was picked on was because I stood up for other people, but to not do that? I would suffer the repercussions of my own guilt and that simply was not how we were taught to think. We're connected was the message that my parents tried to impart. If people suffer discrimination, bullying, or what have you, you cannot just stand aside. You have to take a stand, or you're one of the people who is doing the bullying. I will say frankly, to live like this means you are usually on the outside of whatever is going on. But there are many people who are on the outside who think the same, and in the end, you can only live with yourself about this.

So this ramble just ends up a ramble...with me thinking I will soon be telling my son, "It's okay to be different. It's called thinking outside of the box. It's called standing up for something. It's about living a life of meaning and prioritizing what is important: humanity."

It's tough out there...but in the end if you know someone in your family stands behind you, you can get through it all...the challenge of growing up...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mui Wo Halloween Video

This Mui Wo Hallowee video by Andrew and Ivy Wood is a nice depiction of the community.

Stephen as Red Devil.
Keohi as Spiderman #2.
Steph, cameo appearance (flip flops and ankles)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mom

Mom made one of her yearly whirlwind (this time) tours. Given mom's age, you'd think she would slow down, but I'm still trying to keep up with her. So I was the one who got sick, vomited from motion sickness, felt tired from the bus and the smog and the markets, and she was the one, still wanting to walk, shop and everything else.

Things have improved much since her last visit (fall 2010) in our lives overall, so I felt different about saying goodbye to her, but the distance is long, as any expatriate will tell you, and to know that your child is living far away from his or her grandparents (in Keohi's case, both directions--Europe/America) makes one reflect upon the influences of various generations on a child's growth. My grandmother lived far--in Hawaii, while we were on the Mainland growing up. And my other relatives in Korea. Visits were infrequent. We were a modern nuclear family--kids and parents. No grandparents. No cousins, except on visits.

Also, was thinking about my parents' household and the climate that my mother created based on her own varied interests which were everchanging and never dull. She was, until very recently, (with my father) the type of person who threw regular parties for 50 people featuring string quartets in our living room. There were people from all walks of life who entered our house--of every ethnicity, background and country of origin. People from various countries from Asia to Africa to Europe came through to work in my father's lab or simply visit and my parents loved meeting and hearing about everyone's culture and experience. Growing up, I remember being entertained by once, a play performed at the bottom of the stairs, adults dancing to whatever pop tunes, watching from the top of the stairs as they played a parlor game, and always, classical music from of course, the children in the neighborhood, every one of whom was expected to have played, or did play a string instrument. Randomly there would be Korean fan dancing, Hawaiian ukulele from someone, and my father singing along to some opera at a very high volume. Mom would throw down Korean or whatever type of food and people in general, had a good time. They learned from each other. They had fun. They tried new foods. They laughed. My parents could make magic happen in their living room.

Only several years ago, I had someone tell me that they learned much from my parents, from the parties they threw, from the people they invited into their homes. While my father was and is an active research scientist and physician, my mother's educational and other projects were outreach of a different kind, but as I understand now as an adult, no less significant. It takes a special type of person to introduce lives and worlds to people, to have people meet and intersect and enjoy each other. I certainly do not have this ability, nor do I have this patience, but mom enjoys it and does it well. From her, we learned to appreciate food from every culture, art, music and intellectual exchange. My father is about scholastic pursuits and achievement and outbursts of creativity. My mother is about seeing that in life, there is an art to the everyday.

Thanks Mom.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Only In Our Sleep

March 12, 2011

Only In Our Sleep

Swift steps in the night,
a nylon bag slides across the floor.
Inside: plush toys, plastic robots,
stickers, twigs, a worn gray lamb,
glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs.
I reach—a quick scramble
and you cocoon into my shoulder, a chrysalis son,
curved toes take root against your father.
All huddle under down and cotton.
I hold this pliant flesh, soft hair,
inhale the scent of sleep.
Insect fingers work the yarn of a green blanket,
a nimble soothe to slumber.
Your father stirs, the low rumble of heavy sleep.
I turn and stare into the night
drift into memory against the white walls,
toss back to four years ago.

February—the dry chill of a Los Angeles winter,
and the long wait. Perched on a toilet seat
I twist my torso, dark mucous afloat in the water.
The inevitable begins: I cry out in fear,
seek refuge in the arms of your father.
Pack, unpack, repack: I forget anyway—in hospital
my legs freeze, my torso burns.
The contortions. The buckling.
Heave, sweat, shake, ferocious beyond control.
The leak and spew of urine, vomit and blood.
I writhe in anguish, desire nothing but your arrival.
A fierce and determined birth—they all are.
Three days to the beginning and end;
I collapse with joy and relief.

In the early months, wide with hope
we ate belief—delicious, crisp, perfectly prepared.
We licked the salt and sweet of possibility
and before us loomed a bucolic idyll: rows of books,
endless forests, chills chased by fires,
a son to grow by our side.
We slept parallel—a tiny head touched one,
palm-size feet another. A family
flesh to flesh, our dreams punctuated by
dolphin chirps and sharp cries.
We ate breakfast
watched you reach for light
as the Hippeastrum
on the table arched for the sun.
It sprang from its bulb
in soft white glory,
the barest trace of pink.

The shift happened; we knew it would.
Your father—a man of early departure, late arrival,
toil that burns his sorrow to permanence.
His fatigue is etched in furrowed brows and bleary eyes,
oh, how he longs for escape!
Your mother—runs through days that dissolve in her mouth.
Feather lines now frame her eyes.
In exile from conversation and country
she retreats in determined isolation.
For both, the memory of homeland,
the distance of private suffering,
the sweetness buried under burdens.
They spit dollars and bills,
speak in syllables and fragments,
silently march forward
reluctant members of the industrialized world
kicking thoughts that crush their breath.
The sardonic laugh. The unspoken.
This love of crazy hope
for something.
The day descends and always—the air surrounds, drowns.
The filth suffocates, drills holes in lungs,
shatters cells and years like glass.
The desperate gasp, the urgent breath,
all cough heavy metals
weep at brown skies.
This is Hong Kong.

In sleep we are free to reunite
we three, as it should be.
The rise of dreaming bodies,
the kicks and wrinkled sheets,
the whispers and comfort of the dark.
A hand is squeezed, a forehead kissed.
The dreams, oh how they leak:
husband-to-wife, mother-to-son, son-to-father,
nose-to-nose, back-to-back.
We breathe in each other’s sighs
a familiar scent wraps us close,
binds us in comfort and conflict.
This is the truth of flesh.
Lost in blissful reverie, shocked by morning light
the denial split by the sun
we awaken to begin again
and again and again.
Such fervid belief clasped and cupped
in defiance of what will come.
We are here! We are here!
A temporal halt to the end that lies at bay.
But for now we ride this hope—live this love
together and apart,
only in our sleep,
only in our dreams.

Monday, October 17, 2011

VOTE FOR DR. ROSA MA

A Voice for All Lantau
Vote for Dr. Rosa Ma for District Councillor

I believe I can provide a professional and effective voice to bring people together to meet the challenges of our growing and diverse community.
I promise to:

Promote our Community’s Potential

YES to EDUCATION
 Re-opening a quality multicultural English-medium secondary school in Mui Wo
 Upgrading local primary schools—better facilities and more space
 More kindergarten voucher places for South Lantau
 Developing Adult Continuing Education centres

YES to ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION and VITAL LOCAL ECONOMY

Sustainable development to vitalize our local economy and create jobs whilst protecting and preserving our rural heritage, natural environment and green lifestyle:

 Eco-tourism / Rural ambassadors scheme
 Environmental conservation hub for the whole of Hong Kong
 Organic farming and rural cuisine paradise
 Mui Wo and Tai O facelift to be in line with rural culture and environment
 Monthly thematic market days

YES to BETTER TRANSPORTATION
 Close monitoring of ferries and bus fares and to ensure transparent tendering to minimize service monopolization
 Better networks between Lantau and Central, Cheung Chau and Peng Chau from Mui Wo, and Tuen Mun from Tai O;
 Better networks within Lantau (Tung Chung and Discovery Bay)
 Inter-island and heritage centre links

YES to BETTER COMMUNITY SERVICES
 Building of all-weather community halls
 Better mother-child clinic hours, emergency clinic and ambulance services
 Bilingual communication of local issues, events and activities
 Better planning and monitoring of car parking spaces and bicycle stands
 Village clean-ups

YES to CLOSELY MONITORING GOVERNMENT PROJECTS
 Drainage and sewage systems
 Mui Wo and Tai O facelift
 Road maintenance and safety (especially Tai O Road and Keng Shan Road improvement works)
 Re-planting
 Re-paving of public paths


Protect our Community’s Interest

NO to the Super Incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau
NO to large-scale columbariums in Mong Tong Wan
NO to the destruction of our natural environment, rural heritage and green lifestyle

Together we can work for a better Lantau community.
LANTAU: OUR HOME, OUR FUTURE

A Voice for All Lantau
Vote for Dr. Rosa Ma for District Councillor

I support Education, Environmental Conservation & Economic Development

Email: rosaforlantau@gmail.com
Bank A/C (audited) to receive donation for the campaign: 066-150749-833
Payee Name: Ma Suet Fan
All unused fund will be donated to charity organizations. Please name the organization(s) of your choice.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Vote for Dr. Rosa Ma

Dr. Rosa Ma is running for council office in a local Lantau election. Please vote for this candidate who supports local education, better local services, the preservation of the environment and stimulating Lantau's economy. Information on her platform and campaign will be forthcoming.

Go Rosa!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Typhoon Signal 8 and HK family time and Wall Street

This means Hong Kong shuts down. So a nice break for us. We get to eat dinner as a family during the middle of the week. This never happens other than on weekends or holidays. This type of crazy schedule is not unusual here in HK and simply accepted as normal, and a typical example of the long hours in HK. Granted, Stephen's occupation means terrible hours, but his seem to top the list of most expat families I have met, unless one parent is doing something like working in Macau. And many expats are on the road traveling, so again, this too interferes with family time.

I realize that my childhood of 40 years prior of my father coming home in time for dinner at 5PM was most unusual. My father loved his job and was very committed, and works still now at the age of 76--active in his research and patient load, but people did eat dinner with their families.

Ever wonder how computers were supposed to make our lives better? How we were supposed to have more time for each other, for creativity, for simple contemplation of life? Nope. As the world gets faster, we require longer hours, destroyed labor unions, and have now convinced ourselves that work is our reason for living. It used to be living was our reason for work.

I had some students some years back telling me that their ambitions were to work for Google. Why, at Google, you could eat all of your meals there! I told them that the fact of the matter was this: sure you could, and this may be very convenient. But companies are not stupid. You can get and demand more from your employees if you provide such things. Now, you can stay all day at work. Eat a meal, and then work some more! Hooray! Woudn't it be better if you just knocked off from work at Google or wherever else you were working at 5PM? Arrived at 9AM? This was a cause of a bit of reflection and then one of the boys said to me, okay, you've now destroyed my dream job illusion. Glad I did. Hopefully he's smart enough not to get suckered into that and has a job that allows him to have another life OTHER than the company he works for.

Protests on Wall Street! I have to admit, I never thought I would see it happen. Well, hard to move the capitalist system, but I'm impressed.

Back to family time... What I find paradoxical is that this idea of the Asian family being of primary importance is rather mythic as opposed to a reality-based idea. For many in Hong Kong, work hours are so long that people are prohibited from having a "normal" family life and I read a year ago that the average father spends about 12 minutes per day with his child. For our family, such precious minutes occur in the hour before Stephen takes the 8:05AM ferry. While he gets ready for work, bathing, changing, shaving, Keohi and I eat breakfast on the little Korean style table on the floor of our bedroom. I found that this was the only way we could actually have some kind of time and interaction together as a family from Monday-Friday.

Family, in importance and how it is perceived in Hong Kong (not necessarily with us, but from what I can perceive in general here) is not about time spent with family, I'm beginning to think, but just a drive to survive or provide for your family. I see many people and hear people talk about family this or that, but the truth is, how much time is spent with family? Not a helluva lot if you count the hours. Then again, given the work hours this is maybe just how this is for expats and locals. I actually don't believe that the ideas of how we measure family priority can be really compared easily across cultures. There's a different way of framing family in terms of a network and an idea of the construction of a child's self. Not sure if HK people can brag that they are more family oriented though compared with Western countries. Family time or contact time here seems rather minimal for most. And children are folded into the idea of family in a different way, as part of the overall unit, not, as it is in the US, at the forefront of the family unit. My European friends tell me that this is very American. Perhaps. Anyway, this idea of how children are perceived would explain the lack of facilities for children here, like parks, gardens, and educational opportunities that are recreational.

Anyway, Typhoon Signal 8 was good for us. We ate dinner together. A family.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Young Children and Competitive Sports

I am not a fan of this. At all. To add, I am not a fan of teaching a kind of athletic competition at a young age at all. Case in point: the swimming lesson parents.

I will save the details of ethnic and national identity of this family because should I mention it, they would be easily identified. A few weeks ago, mom was at the lesson screaming GO GO urging on young (age 8?) boy to beat the other kid in their semi-private swimming lesson. HOW INANE IS THAT? There are two kids in the lesson and you're screaming at your kid to GO and SWIM FAST and RAH RAH and BEAT the other kid during a swimming lesson? Lady, you have seriously weird ideas of cultivating friendship and swimming skill. Then tonight, ole dad was in the pool, doing the same thing! Unbelievable. These people are MESSED UP. I will not reveal any more but to say that anyone like that should definitely not have a family as they do, and they are headed for some serious messed up identity issues in the future. I can just imagine them yelling at their kid in the future: CONFORM CONFORM. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? Enough said.

Then two weeks ago I see an old Brit (was beer in hand? can't recall, but wouldn't be surprised, this is Mui Wo, after all) chant CHELSEA CHELSEA in the ear of a one year old child. Perhaps it was not a beer. Perhaps it was just a burp I overheard.All I could think was GET ME OUT OF HERE. What? You want the child to evolve into a football (soccer) hooligan?

Let me explain to a few Americans. It would be like someone chanting at your son, uhm I dunno 49ers, or COWBOYS COWBOYS. To a one year old? Is that all there is to life? Is that supposed to be endearing? I think if anyone chanted that to Keohi Stephen would really be disturbed (same with CHELSEA CHELSEA). I would madly bike away.

I'm all for fighting childhood obesity and being physically active, but I'm finding it odd that simply because I have a son I'm expected to a) understand this sports obsession and embrace it and b) be interested in sports. There are many people in the world who like physical activity, but who don't necessarily participate in terms of watching or playing organized team sports. Sports kids can like include kickball, tag, swimming, rollerskating, biking...later kayaking, scuba diving, rock climbing, mountain biking, martial arts. Sports do not have to involve a ball to be legitimate.

My friend who has a son in the US told me she completely bowed out of attending any athletic stuff for her son because she couldn't stand the whole vibe. So her husband has to go if he does do any sports. I know I am not alone in this, but here it sure feels like it. And it's probably me, but I start to get these body memory sensations of deep anxiety, kind of the feelings I used to have in Iowa when I was 8 and mentally tortured by athletes who scorned any kind of imagination or difference. Sports do not bring out the best in everyone, a certain kind of sports, that is. The promotion of a certain type of sports or attitude of competition can cause normally balanced people to hyperventilate.

Monday, September 26, 2011

In Memoriam: To Those Who Die in a Distant Land (2011)

To Cecilia

In Memoriam: To Those Who Die in a Distant Land (2011)

Late spring news of the first death: an email
written by a mourning spouse.
Mad (mentally ill and vehement)
she died broken, riddled with cancer
like her father decades before.
Insane, her psychiatrist mother did nothing.
She believed in the elusive and the impossible,
like violets sprouting from the wall,
floor lights on her shoulders.
Colors poured from her brain, but the crop withered with neglect.

Prompted by news of the first, I indulged and clicked,
the modern search for a past.
A second death. A blog. A eulogy.
She, a stone pure and hard.
Softness petrified, bent and sharp, refracted in light.
Oh, how she shimmered and clawed.
Dry wit, flirtatious eyes, beautiful slender fingers that moved with shadow puppet skill.
Her ruthlessness came and swiftly departed, and always, a strange repentance.
Yet these moments gallop by: hikes and poetry on a grassy hill,
a brave drive through a deluge,
laughing in the cold air of Venice,
clapping to flamenco through the night.
California, long ago.

Celestial creatures make difficult friends, bewitching
and paralyzing mortals, they squeeze and suffocate in the name of love,
tidy collapsed and strangled bodies strewn at their feet twice a day.
Later, such women sip fruit tea and lacquer their nails.
They wield a blunt lance. It punctures steel,
drives a black hole in a helmet of reason.
Such bellicose belles howl and never surrender.
Parentless, childless, friendless, middle-aged
at their final bedside: a cousin, a partner.
Like moons in a darkened sky, some court clouds that obscure,
cultivate people like constellations of light,
or crawl into caves hell-bent on anonymity and adulation.
Cliffside acrobats, they push you from behind, watch you fall,
clean grime with sanitized wipes.
Lead the way!
They teach the pointlessness of it all,
(LINE BREAK, NO STANZA BREAK)
the futility of dignity,
revive and resuscitate through mirrors and art,
the delicacies of cannibalism.

These deaths from a dimension I no longer open.
I have left the continent and memories are reduced to scents of chance,
Footprints of sand disappear and distance means tidal forgetting.
Before lives were compressed to bytes,
stored and exchanged from wire to screen
we had to let them go.
In modern purgatory: we search, boot up, click to find.
Memory and past endlessly surface.
What is death and mourning? An accident of geography, biological misfortune, conversations between those who knew you,
a shift in money and belongings, a knowledge of suffering abated.
I too wait and avoid.
In middle age, I no longer live by impulse
am hostage to yesterday’s diaphanous grip,
to burning sticks and twigs, pyres that call to the sky,
thick sweet incense, a black silk dress stored in mothballs.

Before I tuck into permanent night
I take a direct flight home.
Quiet, I break the sound barrier, move past gravity’s pull,
retrieve the lost and abandoned
float in stardust higher and farther.
A woman of no god and no faith
I mourn through my pen.
My cells collapse, gingerly step in lines around my eyes.
I exchange perceptions for light
abandoned by a twist of love
by the memory of nothing
by the memory of more.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Snakes

Opened the sliding glass door and spotted one. Screamed and then ran up the stairs, of course forgetting to close the glass door. Stephen came down and killed it with bamboo. Every since the cobra was on our doorstep I have become, admittedly, completely irrational about snakes. Then heard only a week ago that a cobra was in Keohi's teacher's house and she had to get a neighbor to kill it. Then several months ago, that our neighbor spotted a python on our path near our house. Stephen said a little snake was in our house and went out a few weeks ago. Snakes!

Hawaii has no snakes. Yet another reason why I will prefer this tropical locale to other tropical locales. Growing up in Iowa, there weren't a lot of snakes around--everyone said to avoid water moccasins, but I never saw one. Before coming to Mui Wo, my most recent snake story was the one I heard of a rattlesnake encounter in Arizona.

At age 3, my father was a doctor at a camp for kids one summer and there I held a boa constrictor, but since that brief amphibian-lovin' summer I have had little fondness for them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Execution of Troy Davis

It just happened. There are ways that China and the USA strongly resemble each other. Both have and use the death penalty, both silence dissenting voices in the name of supposed expediency.

Life in the American South is not easy if you are non-white, not that it is easy if you are white, actually, because discrimination and the longterm legacy of slavery and racial injustice affects everyone. Living with fear, shame, and guilt, living alongside poverty and racism is not easy for anyone with a conscious mind. It's not about being white, it's not about being black, it's not about being any particular ethnic group;it's about being an individual who yearns for a society that is just and democratic.

The execution of Troy Davis, the many who sit on death row, the numerous wrongful convictions, the accepted level of violence and poverty affects every American, and non-American, really.

Oh, humanity...Troy Davis, rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mid Autumn Festival 2011 and Musings on a Small Village Victory

I will post the photos soon, but this was a very good Mid Autumn Festival...Keohi was even one of the winners of the Lick Hang lantern festival contest. I'll post a photo of that. We drank a lot of milk to get those octopus tentacles...it was an Octopus Lantern. Specifically, a Giant Pacific Octopus lantern.

Mid Autumn festival this year was the first time that Keohi could really enjoy the event. Tuesday night we headed down to the playground and Fion, Tiffany's mom, a former art teacher had prepared a lovely evening for the small Mui Wo kids. There was a shadow puppet play, a brief explanation of the different types of special Mid Autumn foods and fruits, and then the lighting of the lanterns that floated up to the sky.

I didn't actually hear all of the shadow puppet play, but it was all in the spirit of the genre as actually, this particular genre does not follow traditional narrative structure. What may actually transpire in most shadow puppet plays, and certainly in the play I saw in Bali, are a series of short scenes, some linked, most not, and this upends the narrative expectations of the stuck-in-the-three/five-act structure audience that all of us have come to be, inured as we are by Hollywood films and novels. So to these who want to break out of the rut of standard literary narrative--go to a shadow puppet play! This one was no exception, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Then came the explanation of fruits and the like--I suddenly understood WHY there were so many pomelo lanterns made at Keohi's Lick Hang kindergarten. Pomelos for lanterns are a bit like pumpkins and jack o lanterns. They are carved up, fruit eaten, and maybe pieced together with wire to make a lantern design. Back in the old days, people might not be able to afford paper and so would use this special fruit for this purpose.

Then was the lighting of the lanterns. Big paper ones that went up and hopefully did not come down until the candle part was all burnt off. I can only say that these lovely things are a firefighter's nightmare. I think that these would be great to light anywhere, but definitely you'd get a citation and fine if you would ever dare to light one of these in the US, given the way they might just land anywhere. We watched these ascend from the playground and the beach.

Then, the bike back up to the Tai Tei Tong village square. The big BBQs were scattered about the square and the stage was set up and little Gin Ho was dancing, as were a few others from Lick Hang. A big evening. Keohi carried his panda bear lantern, saw his former teacher Miss Yeti and ran around a bit with his pals. A good time. We went in quite late.

A good evening in Mui Wo, made special by someone who wanted to share her cultural background with others. We were lucky to be a part of it.

As for small village victories.

There was really only one. And it just happened. HOORAY. CLP will NOT install the light at the back of our house! HOORAY. Stephen wrote to them, we discussed this with the village head, we tried unsuccessfully to get others this would affect to agree and to also voice their opinion, but in the end it happened. Yes, independent individuals can make a difference. Yesterday I went and knocked on our neighbor's door to get a yea or nay about the light. The older local neighbor who has been here forever admitted that he put in a request for a light years ago, before all the houses were up in this neighborhood. Now there is too much light streaming in his house. So he told the village head today that he too did not want it!

I'm pleased about this for a few reasons.

a) It's an environmental blight that was stopped simply because we voiced our opinion. Imagine if CLP went ahead with this unwanted streetlamp and it blared all night long for the next 50 years or more. How much energy would be wasted? If you believe in environmental change you have to voice your opinion about it. Light pollution in HK is terrible.

b) If you want to be a part of a community, then it shows that you have to participate, and if you participate by voicing your opinion and caring about what happens, good things will come your way. People can be silent because they feel that this is not their home country. But environmental pollution knows no national boundaries. It is a problem for everyone--we're all on the same planet. We voiced our concerns and I'm very glad we did.

Now we just have to get rid of some of the lights that are already ON.

The only way to improve things is to stand up and say something or act upon it. You know what is crazy? People say, oh this isn't our country, so we can't. But there are things that are beyond national lines that you have to stand up for. The environment. Fairness and tolerance to human beings. Certain ideals are universal. I think that it just boils down to this--are you the type of person that stands up for things in your home country? If you really are, then you will remain that way. But if you never were, then you won't here, but you'll just think that you are different because you are now an expat. But you're not. You're the same as you always were...yep. Wishy washy. People don't change unless there is a very good reason to do so. And HK usually doesn't give people a reason to change for the better. Here people become more insular and as a result of wealth due to lower taxes and the status bestowed upon individuals by virtue of speaking English, usually more narrow in thought...that's just HK...signing out.

Pleased and proud to be from a member of the vocal family from Sun Lung Wai...

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Ten Years On

Overseas here in HK, this is not the big news story, of course, that it is in the US. Nevertheless, it is in the news. The anniversary of 9/11 remains significant given how its aftermath affected the world--a two front war that has resulted in thousands and thousands of casualties that effectively, solved nothing and divided nations and people. Then came economic recession. And we are still left in relative confusion. We, the United States, remain a powerful country that has yet to figure out how it will navigate the 21st century. In many ways, this is what 9/11 came to be, the division of the America of the past, and the one, still unfolding, still undefined, of the 21st century.

The event, the largest domestic terrorism act in the US, was horrific in and of itself, but what marked it further, was the aspect of it being live on television--viewers watched the tower(s) fall, and people dive to their deaths. I was watching the report of the first one when the second one came down, live on television. There were email accounts sent around of people from the City and what they did and where they were when it happened. I flew back to the Bay Area a few days after from Memphis. The airport was completely empty.

It was such a terrible act, there are no excuses, but unfortunately, our government launched a war that could never, and can never be won ("War on Terror"). Looking back, I recall the many people, who instead of calling for a careful examination of our foreign policy in the name of those who died, the innocents who died, instead called for vengeance and hatred. To respect those who lost their lives, we, as a nation, should have proceeded more cautiously and pragmatically. Instead our government--our supposed representatives who had NOT A SINGLE MEMBER of their FAMILY in ACTIVE DUTY COMBAT, sent American troops to die, pressured other nations to join, and thus began the tragedy of thousands of innocent civilians dying on another continent.

In the name of those who died on 9/11, we should also remember those who died in its aftermath, Americans and non. And we should remember that any act of war, is also an act of terrorism.

RIP to those who died on 9/11.

RIP to all those who died in the years following as a result of 9/11.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Taxes, Reading and Mui Wo

Taxes...

It is late. I am finally doing the U.S. taxes for 2010. I am staring at a pile of receipts and pieces of paper and thinking OH MY GOD. HELP. Yeah, I have an accountant. That doesn't make the pile go down any faster.

Books...

OKAY, I read a great book I HOTEL by Karen Tei Yamashita. I highly recommend it.
I think it is her best book. It is also a welcome antidote to these tiresome stories about Asian American immigrants who become successful a) doctors b) lawyers c) bankers d) engineers. This is a story about Asian American political activists, radicals, union organizers and artists.

Then, I read a truly TERRIBLE book for my chick lit research called China Dolls. But it shows it takes all kinds--sincere and vapid, to make a community, I suppose...but geez, talk about bad writing. Then I think to myself, it is really true, if you can just remove some of that gray matter, life is probably a lot easier. When you don't understand how inane your perspective is, you're a lot happier than those who understand the impossible reality of the entire absurd universe we live in. I would have to conjecture that there would be some difference in the Chinese American and Korean American community chick lit. Haven't read any Korean American chick lit. But I would guess that Koreans would discuss church a lot more, in-family fighting, and Confucian hierarchy. There would be some intense lie involved. A big theft or sleazy act. And a cheating spouse or boyfriend somewhere. Maybe this is why Korean dramas are popular. Nothing like dysfunctional Confucianism combined with capitalism to make for some interesting TV serials. The Chinese American chick lit book I read seems fairly simplistically happily capitalistic and consumer oriented with a few food references and mother headaches...

Mui Wo

As for recent developments. We have agreed to share the bananas from the tree in front of our house with our neighbors. The property line goes between the banana trees. Some difficulty communicating this, but all is now friendly with a delivery of banana muffins from yours truly.

Stephen remains the crazy white guy who unearths building rubble with the shovel all weekend long. Seeing him out there takes me back to those fixer-upper Tucson, Arizona days. I have few fond memories of my actual MFA experience, but I made some good friends in Tucson, was broadened intellectually, actually, mostly by the women of color I met in other programs, and learned to love the desert. That old house looked great, Stephen worked like a dog on it (as did I, but I wasn't clipping electric wires, so can't claim endangering my life to fix the house) and we sold it within four hours of it being listed. We enjoyed the finished product one night, or if you get down to it, just about 1 hour because he screwed in the electric light plates right before we drove out of town to Los Angeles.

Nothing much new in our 'hood other than CLP adding to the light pollution and obscuring our night sky. While many are concerned about conservation of energy and light pollution, CLP and others are hell-bent on having bright yellow lights glaring into people's homes all night long.

As we have said before, we are enjoying the very last of Mui Wo as a nice village. Ten years from now it will look like...TST...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reasons We Write Letters

A few nights ago Stephen and I were talking and he said, remembering when he came so many years ago to HK, "This was essentially an apartheid system. I had to make a conscious decision, as a British person, as a white person, how I would negotiate it. I couldn't stand most of the attitudes here. And everyday, it's (still) my obligation to educate or to start conversations or to show people or to demonstrate on some level a different way of thinking."

I agree, but it does get tiresome. But...still, one goes on. After all, the choice otherwise is to shut down completely (my frequent choice) or to join up with the narrow-minded, or to just get pissed off (another frequent choice of mine). Sometimes it is hard to be level-headed.

So, Keohi attended, briefly, a one week, two hour a day theatre camp this summer. I thought about writing this letter a long while before sending it. Mainly because, frankly, I was feeling apathetic. Why should I bother? It's a camp, he will never attend again. And it's the American South and entrenched ways are hard to battle. But I decided in the end to do so. Why? Because the camp and the people were nice and community minded. So they deserved to know...maybe what people might not tell them ordinarily. Anyway, in the US, these are simply issues that children of color face. By now, I might have more of these issues if were were not in ASia and/or if Keohi was not attending a local Chinese school.

We face these complications here too, but the dynamic is different as there becomes the strange issue of living in a relatively new (1997) post-colonial society. And the majority is, of course, Asian.


The Letter to the Community Theatre Camp...

Hi XXXX,

Since I am now again overseas, I probably should be taken off the mailing list and will simply look up what is going on before we visit next summer. I wanted to thank you for your summer program. I believe that Keohi enjoyed it.

I hesitated to mention this at the time, but decided to do so as however sensitive this may be, I think it may very well be an issue in the future given the changing demographic of the XXXXXX community. What was once an all-white community when my family first moved to Memphis in 1980, has shifted as much of the population of Memphis has also changed. I was a little taken aback by some of the children's theatre casting decisions. As an educator (having taught K-12 and now university) and having studied acting, I am aware of the complications of casting, but figured within the context of a children's theatre, that there might be a few considerations regarding how such decisions are made.

I'm speaking of James and the Giant Peach, which we attended with Keohi after the summer school session. It was a charming production. The children all did a fine job, but of course, myself, as an Asian American, I could not help but notice that the roles of the two "ugly" sister/aunts were played by young girls of color. They were both, rather visibly, the only minority presence in your cast. I realize that they both had fairly good physical acting abilities, though at times, the diction of one girl was not as clear as some of the other cast members. Casting is complicated and requires not only the problem of skill level, but especially with children's theatre, one must take into consideration the diversity of the audience. Yet, the message sent by having young minority girls play these roles in the context of an otherwise all-white children's theatre production is uncomfortably clear and sends a not-so-subtle message out to the audience, mainly one of children and their families.

There are, of course, a multitude of studies done on standards of beauty and attraction and role modeling. I'm fairly certain that even the girls themselves might not have noticed that their roles as the "ugly" sisters were not an indictment of their own status of young girls of color, but I would hazard to guess that looking back as adults, they may potentially rethink how they came to form opinions of their own physicality as young girls. Such casting may also reinforce ideas in impressionable minds who not only participated in the project, but who watched the show. Children and many adults often do not understand differing standards of beauty and appearance, and the complexities of images of television, theatre and mass media, and how this shapes our ideas of society, beauty, and women.

Again, overall, it was a truly enjoyable production and I thank you for your time and consideration. Keohi enjoyed the camp and the show very much. We hope in the future, to attend further productions of the XXXXX theatre group when we come back to the States for a visit.


Cheers,


Stephanie

Monday, August 22, 2011

Historical Novels

Finished The Known World by Edward P. Jones. A brilliant book. Beautiful prose and the fascinating subject of black slaveholders in the American south. This book should be taught everywhere and tells the reader more about American history and the complexities of the American multicultural society better than most.

Am now reading I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita. A zippy great read of the Asian American movement from the 1960s. The political movement of Asian Americans is quite unique and created a radically different environment for Asian Americans in the US as compared to most other Western countries.

The Chinese diaspora has been making its way to the West, and the Japanese, for that matter since the mid 19th century, but the 1960s created a platform of academic study about the community that widely influenced how Asian Americans perceive themselves and negotiate American society.

They expect full participation in American society and have contributed on that level moving beyond the confines of their own community and much of the Confucian baggage of obligation to the immediate circle instead of societal that can often plague Asian communities overseas. While the East Coast of the US now has as many Americans of Asian descent as the West, the communities are entrenched differently and have not defined the local wider culture in the same way as Asian Americans have on the West Coast.

West Coast Asian American signing off...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Announcements Necessary

Today I hit the Mui Wo playground. The swing set area. It stank of urine.

Oh, for crying out loud. Do you have to let your kid PEE in the playground? The ground tiles absorb the pee. It just reeked. I've actually seen and know of parents who have let their kids pee around the playground (city services, call out to you--install a bathroom, please) in the grates.

And before you ask--no, such parents are not only of Asian extraction...everyone gets desperate, especially small children, but at least go by the bushes. Geez.

So I take back my previous post. Maybe people here DO NEED announcements constantly blaring!

Here are my suggestions to make HK life more pleasant:

1. AVOID URINATING or DEFECATING ON THE PLAYGROUND/POOL/BEACH. USE PUBLIC TOILETS.

2. DO NOT SPIT. ESPECIALLY IN FRONT OF SMALL CHILDREN. THEY WILL IMITATE YOU AND THUS PERPETUATE THE LEGACY OF SPITTING.

(Do not laugh about this--tuberculosis has been on the rise in HK)

3. DO NOT LITTER.

4. BIGOTRY NOT APPRECIATED. FROM EITHER SIDE. FROM ANYONE...THAT'S RIGHT.

(As they said in LA back in the day, No Color Lines...or as my cousin said, Assholes Come in Every Color)

5. SMOKING SUCKS

6. PICK UP YOUR DOG POO

7. WHENEVER POSSIBLE, PLEASE TRY TO USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.

(Hello, global warming...)

8. MASKS ARE NICE BUT THEY DON'T WORK. STAY HOME WHEN YOU ARE SICK.

(HKer are perpetually sick as a doctor told me, we are at the epicenter of international flu and cold bugs--proximity in Guandong of fowl, swine, water, and humans make us beginning point of every bug in the world--us and Mexico)

9. THINK OUT OF THE BOX

(That's right, if it's not in the instruction booklet you were given on your first day of work, think how you can still make something work.)

10. HAVE A NICE DAY

(People here need this sign. All of the signs indicate a level of confusion and misery or general chaos as they are so directional)



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Announcements over loudspeakers

I'm back and forgot about this aspect of life...one of my least favorite aspects of life here in Hong Kong. Yet it is a very integral part of life here in Hong Kong that I think people might want to know about back in the U.S.-- there is no such thing as a quiet day at the beach, a silent swim at the pool, or even a day on a school playground WITHOUT a loudspeaker constantly going. The announcements are made on the ferry, on the train, and in nearly every public place you may step. The announcements are not confined to an auditory assault, but also are visually present in the form of signs announcing everything from instructions about warming up before swimming, to not peeing in the pool, to how to wash your slippers before stepping in the pool shower, no playing music on the beach etc...

I can only compare this to having FOX News channel blaring in your ears continuously, or a kind of rolling announcement of a natural disaster running across your screen.

I'm not sure what can be done about this type of invasive noise. What's interesting is that members of the society are trained to think that this is normal from a very young age. There are blaring instructions made over a loudspeaker, even in Keohi's one room schoolhouse on days where there are parties or other events.

Today's non-peaceful swim reminded me of going to a movie in Seoul in 1977, the national anthem coming on and the entire movie theatre standing up when the flag came on.

Indoctrination. The imposition of rules. I know it happens in every society. And maybe, given the influx of people, it is somewhat necessary (what would happen if they stopped the DO NOT POOP IN PUBLIC POOL stuff? Horrors....) But there's no subtlety about public instruction here in Hong Kong.

But I think that a constant barrage of noise and signage telling you to do this or that has got to affect the psyche of people. If you are constantly commanded what is the result? Obedience? Or do you just ignore it all?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back in Mui Wo--end of summer 2011

Back in Mui Wo. For the first time ever, my plane landed about 45 minutes early. This meant me, Keohi, four 50 pound bags/boxes, 3 heavy carry-ons and some serious logistical maneuvering. Just sign me up to a shipping company. Greeted by the bovine blocking the road by the swimming pool and then Keohi and I just wait on a curb. I am back in Mui Wo. So of course I sit on dried cow poo...heat is coming down. It was a 14 plus hour flight that started at 1:20AM in San Francisco. I feel like vomiting because of the taxi ride, as I do after every taxi ride from the airport.

I think to myself: "How did I get here?" (meaning Mui Wo)

The answer: Completely randomly. If I had not been walking down the street in Lan Kwai Fong in 1997 the night before Handover, I never would have ended up in Mui Wo. Let's face it, one does not grow up fantasizing about a life in Mui Wo...not usually, though it's been interesting enough.

Some hours later, I fall as I bound down the stairs to greet Stephen. Was wearing socks--who knew a wooden floor could be so clean? My ass/back is bruised. Stephen greets me with this: "Ah, the calamity that is my wife."

Yes, I am back home. Jetlag meant we were up at 2AM. It was a good and productive trip. CA a good stop. Keohi caught his first fish (trout) near San Gregoria past Half Moon Bay, picked a Fuji apple, visited the fire station and a Japanese tea garden in San Mateo.

A good summer...coming to a close.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Keohi and the Tofu Fa Uncle

This is a little late, but the photo of Keohi staring at a beloved bowl of Tofu-fa, a dessert of tofu with ginger and sugar, is one of the images I will carry in my mind of his childhood. Unfortunately the Tofu Fa Uncle, or Tofu Fa Man--both monikers we used, died several weeks ago. I tried to explain this to Keohi, but it will only sink in when we return to Mui Wo and he searches for the Tofu Fa Uncle himself and does not find him. Still, the past several weeks, after I told Keohi, he has been pretending to be the Tofu Fa Uncle, scooping out pretend tofu with a pretend paddle, from a large wooden teacake carrier my parents had bought from Ho Chi Minh years ago. It's tall and worn and wooden and dark, which is a fair enough resemblance to the Tofu Fa Uncle's pail he would carry around Mui Wo, filled with fresh tofu.

I admittedly let the Tofu Fa man's dessert spoil more than one meal...anytime we saw him, I'd buy some, and often for Keohi's friends, if enroute to a playdate or if kids were coming over, all of whom seemed to eat the tofu fa with equal gusto. It was a Mui Wo childhood village pleasure and it seemed to also be an interesting demarcation in terms of eating habits--the kids who downed that tofu dessert usually ate more Asian food, of course, and I'd hazard to guess, among expats at least, rolled with village life in a different kind of way.

(I had the unfortunate and sad experience of being met with a OOH YUCK glare from one expat kid when Keohi was eating his treat, the father, of course, trying his best not to poo-poo my child's eating pleasure and ignoring us when I had said that Keohi liked it. The mother tried to be polite. Yawn. All I could think of was memories of being mercilessly teased for eating Asian food as a kid in Iowa and I hoped that Keohi didn't notice her reaction. Luckily he was too involved in eating to care. I used to be embarrassed eating things like dried squid when I was a kid, but the one thing about Keohi being in Mui Wo is that he can eat all of that stuff with utter abandon and pleasure, and for the most part, not suffer people's narrow-minded bad culinary habits--to think that people pass it on from generation to generation is truly pathetic. Anyway, too bad this family missed this part of village life.)

I digress...

Anyway, it got to the point where we had started to carry around a little plastic bag with a spoon and bowl, when we went out, though for some reason, we always ran into him at times when we didn't have it.

As Stephen said, Keohi will have sticky sweet memories of this part of his life in Mui Wo.

Keohi first tried the dessert a little over a year ago. We were biking and noticed our friends Margaret, with her daughter Miriam, and Margaret told us to try some--it was delicious and a fave treat of her daughter's. So he did and had been hooked every since. I feel lucky to have done this or we might have missed out too. Myself, I carry memories of my father taking me to the Buffalo Zoo every weekend and buying me Cracker Jacks (carmelcorn and sugary peanuts with a small prize in the box). Keohi will carry this one, I think.


RIP Tofu Fa Uncle--you made a lot of village kids very happy and they were lucky to experience this part of Hong Kong life that is slowly giving way to fast food and candy from 7-11.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Serendipity in the Rhodes College Library

So earlier I had mentioned I had bought a Kindle to read some academic text, Specifically, a book on narrative theory called NARRATIVE FICTION: CONTEMPORARY POETICS by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan. This book is available for 110USD or for rental online for 30 days for about $5, plus a conversion fee to Kindle, another buck.

Let me say this: it is a significant book, but it is not exactly a page turner. And given my work, it has been, more or less, a source of angst for a few weeks. Mostly because it is hard to stay awake while reading ole Shlomith's work. Sorry, Shlomith. I know you are a brilliant scholar, and this is a very significant book, but this book is just not the most fascinating read, if I do say so...

So today was my last day at Rhodes College library (beautiful small liberal arts college library in Memphis where I have borrowing privileges). It was a great day. I was thrilled that the book I wanted was about to be shelved and the librarian caught it in time for me to make a page number notation. (those damn page numbers) And then I was perusing the for sale for 50 cents shelf, and what do you know--next to a book on Marxism and Formalism (which I also bought) was Shlomith's oeuvre! It was a divine moment. I felt I really scored with this book for only 50 cents.

I got this kind of pleasant feeling though, about Shlomith's book, and me searching for this everywhere and then finding it right in Memphis. An ole worn copy. So much better than the Kindle version. And then, there was this feeling about the amazement of minds meeting. (Mine is far smaller, so maybe just my mind hanging on to Shlomith's...) Here's Shlomith at the University of Jerusalem, author of this rather old book by theory standards (1984) that is still relevant to me, at City University of HK, some decades later. This is the magic of books and the library...reading across time and cultures and places. Connecting mentally in a space, through words. Reading has always been a place of sanctuary for me, even when faced with .... sigh... the likes of Shlomith's works. So I figured there was some kind of larger meaning to this finding of her book at the library...

Avoid the Kindle?

Always check the library book sale items? (Very dangerous in certain places...we had SO MANY BOOKS in storage before coming to HK as we were swept up in the fever of library book sales...most gone now to a drug rehab center in LA)

Shlomith--don't underestimate her?

Maybe a little of all of it. Thinking hard today about libraries though and how one goes in and out of them and certain books, reading them in the library.

For some reason the book I really remembered was reading THE WOMEN'S ROOM by Marilyn French when I was 13. That was mind-blowing. I sat reading it on the floor of the Iowa City public library and was FREAKED OUT by what the reality was for most women. It as at that point in time I declared myself a feminist, actually, though a broader and different perspective on the nuances of feminism would come later. That book, is true, now, I am sure, dated, to some degree. But I was slightly reminded of it, in terms of content during part of the period I was at home with Keohi. Women's lives can become very narrow and that is not in a positive or a negative way--just narrow is all.

Anyway, ruminating on libraries. I invite anyone to share a library story and to post...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Quotes of the Week

"Mom, are you ready for me to be a teenager when I grow up?"

"There are NO doughnut shops on the moon, okay?"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kindle and I Pod Shuffle and gadgets

So not only have I entered the technology era and use the Information Superhighway, but I recently have two new tech things in my possession, adding ultimately to the vast floating barges of waste in the ocean, or at least landfill mess.

I got an IPod Shuffle. A gift from my mom. Pink. Very cute. Now to figure out how to music on it. This may take me another three months, but I got it to try to help me exercise more. Yes, back in the day, I did have a Sony Walkman. Remember those? And versions of it with radios or whatever and used this to run or rollerblade. The shuffle is for sitting on an exercise bike or to use in the Mui Wo gym. This gym needs some biophilia action, or at least some kind of decor update. The plastic plants are a downer and one does not feel inspired in this kind of place. It would behoove the powers that be, whoever updates the gym, to take a brief look on the internet at Southern California exercise facilities. I know people are proud of the aerobics photos on the wall from the 1980s, but they fail to motivate.

Kindle. AHA. Had to get this. We've been a Kindle-less family and it has been the source of heated discussion in our household. We swore never never to buy a computer reading device. But I did. I was overseas and noted that a lot of the materials were online for my research and thought it would be cheaper than buying all the books. I was sort of right. I would have had to pay $110USD for a book on narrative theory (yeah, that's just flying off the shelves! whoo eee!) but instead rented it for $5. So that in itself was worth it. But THEN (here's the caveat, aside from how long it took for me to figure out how to turn the thing on and off) there are no page numbers issued! A disaster for an academic book. Then I had Kindle transfer my PDF to fit a Kindle--a PDF of another academic book. It was what, 50 cents, or a dollar? But when I booted it up, the font was so small I could hardly read it. I tried to read it, simply as a matter of proving that I didn't waste my money, but it was impossible. So ended up being hunched over my computer to read that book.

Kindle--jury is really out for me. Not sure about its use given how I like to read books in the tub, spill drinks on it and stuff them in my bag. And the page number thing makes it not good for academic books--though Kindle assured me they were telling publishers (I called to complain). They have good tech support though. Big plus.

The one tech object EVERYONE should own who writes is a KINESIS KEYBOARD. I was obliged to buy another here given the state of my hands with RSI/carpal tunnel and the writing I had to do. We have two others in our household, though Stephen doesn't use it quite as much as I do.

This is a LIFECHANGING keyboard system. Any other keyboard is just a joke. This curves to the digits of your hands. I had 3 of the older models in the past and was such a fan they asked me and I wrote a testimonial about my belief in the Kinesis product.

I have pointed several people to this keyboard and I recommend it to anyone who spends time on the computer of any length.

As for other gadgets or appliances I have enjoyed this summer in what I have called The Suburban Palace (my parents home in Memphis):

A. Dryer

(Keohi also enjoys helping with pushing the buttons and doing laundry)

B. Coffee Maker

(Mr. Coffee is pretty exciting, but just went back to the Italian press after I ran out of filters. I'm cheap and they're not great for the environment)

C. Answering Machine

(OK, we have one in Mui Wo. I just haven't figure out how to work it. We've had it for 6 months)

D. Car


E. Car Radio


F. Exercise Bike

(This is like the ones in the gym. My mom got this some years ago when she had a problem with her hips, now solved by pilates. Anyway, a good 20 minutes of sweat whenever you feel like it is convenient, not that I have gotten wildly fit or anything)

G. Ceiling Fans


H. Teller clerk phones in Target

Wow. In 60 seconds after you put the phone down a salesclerk will come to help you. And it is 60 seconds. American service is usually very good, case in point.

I. CD player

We have our IPod connected, but it's nice to pop in a CD. Or maybe I should just figure out how to use the IPod one year.

J. Automatic Ice Cube maker

K. Dishwasher

L. Garbage Disposal

M. Garage Door Opener (this is with the car)

Well, the list goes on. But what I realize is that these are pretty much bog standard aspects of basic middle class life in the US, especially in the suburban areas or outside of major metropolitan cities. But such items are not easily used, acquired, or thought of in other parts of the world.

So, do I miss this stuff?

It's fun, but now I think about how to get that stuff fixed in Mui Wo. Talk about hell.
So forget it. Also, I don't think about it.

We got our SUV (Our 3 wheel passenger bike with canopy plus storage below!), our fleet of bikes (3, plus 2 kids bikes), and we've now owned a TV, our very first one we bought ever in our household. Most of the other stuff just doesn't come on my radar at all in HK...if it's not around, you don't miss it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Japanese in Memphis

Don't even try to eat it. Why did I bother? I'd been reading the book Yoshi's Feast to Keohi and my attempt to enliven his reading experience ended with Keohi vomiting his eel on the ground. He loved the eel. But the eel must have been bad.

At least we got a refund of $10.

Bummer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Multiculturalism--outside of the US: Framing the Discussion

The biggest issue with this above discussion is how it is now framed in the media, and even among your average person in standard discussion. And the problem is this: people don't know how to discuss it because they are frankly, ignorant. And I will say this, most are WILLFULLY so because you don't have to read the paper everyday to understand a few basic facts, and you don't have to be a historian to take into the account the factors that have led to the polarization of this issue, in particular, on the European continent, but let's not forget China (shall we say Tibet? shall we say Africa?) and of course, the U.S..There has been now, for in the range of hundreds of years, an accumulation of the planet's wealth and natural resources by what is now a small majority of people who happen to be of lighter skin tone and pigmentation. That is the sad cold truth, and it's time to own up to the facts.

All Empires and peoples have their day of power and omnipotence and this has been going on now for quite some time. Helloooo colonialism. Hellllooo slavery. Hellloooo genocide! It's been the era of this particular group's ascendancy and dominance for awhile. But it wasn't always that way. EVERY group has had its day in the sun and all groups have risen and fallen accordingly. It's called history. It's called society. It's called, well...LIFE. And this above description, is just what is going on now. So don't get all hotheaded if you are from this above group. Just accept and deal. Every culture or ethnicity or Empire, or a good many, have been in this position of power, at least regionally. The Japanese Empire, the Incas Empire, the Egyptian Empire etc... you know...this is not really anything to feel defensive about. These are just the facts. (I say this knowing that I may have some readers of European extraction who might feel hotheaded about this...chill...)

The reason I find this multicultural issue so frustrating and why I have found it INCREASINGLY frustrating to even HEAR a single PERSON talk to me about this, particularly in Hong Kong, is that I am living in a former colony (and let's face it, now current 'colony' of China) and the vast majority of the people, don't seem to get how colonialism works. Oh, I should add, this is not simply those of Euro extraction, because frankly, the issue is one of hegemony and consolidation of power and the Han Chinese are pretty good at it...

There is a failure, a miserable failure on the part of a vast majority of people, to examine the historical realities that have led to immigration (such as recent and current wars), the failure to understand the widespread exploitation by the part of wealthier Western countries in the plunder and exploitation of natural resources and labor of poorer nations (this includes the collusion of both the governments of such poor countries and multinational companies such as...well, shall we say name your favorite oil company?), and the failure for people to think out of their ethnocentric boxes.

Many things are bringing me to this post, but what really has led me to this is the following fact below:

Right now, as a result of a racist Christian fundamentalist who massacred his own country people, people are screaming that this is the fault of multiculturalism!

Oh my god.

How simplistic and dumb can you be?

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? REFRAME the discussion, folks. Get a life. This is about capitalism, hegemonic structures, the uncontrolled rapacity of multinational corporations, white supremacy, racism for NO justifiable reason, and serious mental health issues!

The next thing you'll hear is the guy was UNDER STRESS and gee, if he was a RACIST, it was because, golly, it is just STRESSFUL to have BLACK HAIRED people AROUND in his country.

Oh for crying out loud.

THIS IS THE FAULT OF NARROW MINDED THINKERS TO LOOK AT HISTORY AND TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for their FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS. And this is the fault of people who do not take a GOOD HARD LOOK at their outrageous lifestyles. Look at the planet. Look at the imbalance of wealth. Stop blaming immigrants for everything and do not blame immigrants for one's own racism and discriminatory thinking.

You want to drive your gas guzzling car? You want your huge homes and swimming pools? You want your caviar flown in from Russia and you want acres of land when an average person in the world is fighting to get a roof over his or her head? You want your cheap goods manufactured by 12 year old girls? You want your floor cleaned? You want your washing machine with digital parts and your natural products mined from a province that is now an environmental disaster? You want your gourmet dog food?

You want all of this and you want the black haired people to stop "invading your country"?

Get a brain. Get a calculator. Read a few books. (Sorry to say this, but can this please include MARX--can anyone recommend an ABRIDGED EDITION of the Marx-Engels reader? And no, I'm not a cadre from over the border--sigh) Meet a person from a different economic, social, or racial group. Get a damn life.

And please, do not talk to me about your strong feelings about how immigration is not working out in your particular country. What is not working out is this: dominance by a single group of people. Capitalism. The failure of the education system to teach ideas of humanity, brotherhood/sisterhood. What is missing: Compassion. Solidarity. What is not working out is this: The embrace of ideas of unity that stretch beyond the confines of national boundaries (nationhood is a new thing--okay? Only several hundred years tops---but maybe this is a failure of the education system to teach this basic historical FACT!). The ruthlessness of religious structures failing to understand the needs of their people, particularly women and children. That is not what is working out in this life.

Immigration, is not the problem, sorry.

Humanity is...and I am reminded for those who think they are above the fray, those, who posit, well, I can see how it is a drag for everyone (immigrants etc...) but my life is okay. How can your life be okay when society is not okay if you are a sentient human being? How can you think you are okay when people around you are hating, exploiting, and making others miserable? No, sorry, you are not okay, if you say that.
Because we are all in this together, this grand sorry experiment in life, and you're not okay because a lot of other people aren't. Who wants to live in a society of hatred and vitriol and misunderstanding?

That's not living...it's not what we should accept.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Briefly: The American Project

I've been doing a lot of reading for what appears to be a rather narrow field of study, as my dissertation focuses on the aesthetics, genre and form of the Asian American Novel from 2000-2010. There have been a myriad of developments in this genre, most of which to the average reader, are probably not that relevant to one's life, nor of particular interest, but such reading has had its effects on my ever changing opinion about the nation I claim as home, and the nation, that I think, in my sensibility I embody, no doubt to its fullest degree.

(This last fact of my being, affirmed on a rather regular basis from my expatriate English spouse who left his own country with a vengeance some years ago, and as a result, repeatedly iterated to me he has no desire to ever participate in another colonial Empire, new or dying, which made life in the U.S. rather difficult, to say the least. China, of course, is another Empire, but more on the complications of squaring our current bi-national household existence in another expanding ruthless Empire later...) :)

But, all that aside, slogging through a great deal of rather arcane, if not dry literary criticism, has led me to think about various aspects of the possibilities and limits of the American national identity, and the American Project, so to speak, of the individual, betterment, society, democracy, and freedom/liberty--these terms defined here in a spiritual, almost esoteric sense. It is this idea of liberty that has enchanted us--Americans and many non-Americans, in its utterance and with it comes this amazement, this belief that there is actually a nation that in its public relations campaign, seems to subscribe to this idea. Unbelievable. Remarkable.

The American Dream.

And due to this wild figment of imagination, and the sorrows that exist as a result of this ever timeless pursuit, all sorts of creative enterprises and efforts spring economically, socially, politically, and artistically--ranging from...oh, let's say, in more recent 20th century times, the birth of MTV and the personal computer to jazz and bilingual education to the Tea Party and Christian mega-churches. (I'm in Memphis, right now. There are many mega-churches here. One features a bastardized Statue of Liberty in front of it, which my son puts out whenever we pass, is actually incorrect in its design as it does not have the torch and the book in the proper place. Lady Liberty co-opted by a group of evangelizing fanatical Baptists...such is America...)

That this Dream is as diverse as the population, is the central reason America is unable to coalesce, and that this Dream is so powerful, is the central reason that America continues to engage in its central project which can be perceived of as a Nietzchean experiment gone awry. We aspire to be a nation of Supermen, (again in the existential sense) but this Ayn Rand reality is a hegemonic nightmare for the majority of its citizens. We can't ALL be on top. Every year I come back, I am amazed by the number of brand-new SUV vehicles on the road. I mean, come on, how many people can AFFORD on their SALARY to buy a 50,000USD car! And keep it running with insurance and gas and every other car repair cost! Are you kidding me? Who can afford a 40 inch flat screen TV? Realistically, few households, but so many people have them here. Because, we are worthless without these goods. We don't have these, and we are not Americans. We are nothing. We don't count because we're not living the Dream.

We cannot sustain this level of consumption--we consume too much gas, we have an obesity problem when much of the world is starving, we bomb for liberty (yes, I saw a car with the sticker FREEDOM THE OLD FASHIONED WAY with a military plane in the middle--talk about a reductive phrase, well, so much for bumper sticker politics) and yet--in defense of a vast number of people here--Americans have a refreshing honesty and creativity that is a vital part of the national character.

I say this with a categorical defiance because in my years of travel and expatriate life, for the most part, it is the Americans who really have less of a boundary when it comes to ethnicity and diversity. (Again, we've had some back and forth about this in my own household, and I am in a biracial, binational household, also about the issue of the waning American Left...Stephen claims that being privy to all types of rants as a white male that no white male would dare broach with me has left him to conclude, more or less, that everyone is biased. I see the point, but I tell him what's even weirder to me is that overseas I get the rants from people just because I speak English! As if speaking English means I will participate in fascist bigoted ideology! More on that later...) People come on and prove me wrong. But since I've been overseas I've heard more Western people rant about immigration invasions and everything else to their home countries who uhm...yeah, don't tell anyone, but even engage in miscegenation. Go figure. How messed up is that? Before anyone goes and gets all huffy about this, I'm not ignorant to how social structures are constantly shaken by an influx of new people, but this is also part of modern life. We're in a period of migration across continents and in an age of border crossings across many ideas and geographic places.

But back to more the conversation...so anyway, the reason I say all of this is that
Americans have little choice but to deal with diversity, for quite a while. They HAVE to deal. Americans are USED to it. And there are LAWS against being a racist. And LAWSUITS. We went through the civil rights movement. Bigotry is part of American life, but as a Western woman of Asian descent, there aren't many places I can say are much better, frankly. Being a person of color in the US, however, it's always good to have a little mental breathing space or insanity sets in...but I think that's in most countries when you are not part of the hegemonic structure. And like most sentient people of color too, one develops a certain distance about the State.

To continue--anyway, there are many Americans who don't like and there are draconian immigration laws now sweeping the country, but they will roll back. They have to and will. There are more people who don't like these laws than do and ultimately, they are not fiscally practical...which is what will be the deciding factor. Let's face it, entire state economies would collapse without new immigrant labor. Americans are about money as much as they are about freedom.

We are, for the most part, an open society. We have to be. We're too big not to be, unless we adopt some Mainland China tactics. Machine guns and porn and terrible immigration attitudes--it's all here. But so is an idea of civil rights and some basic consumer protection and there are the plethora of people who still sustain the idea that our diversity is what makes us a strong country. There are many here who are logical, who see the benefit of a dynamic and compelling society that may be diverse and fractured, but in its idealized form can yield something completely unique in this world.

Americans can be parochial, often are unable to see beyond their own state lines or borders, but this is not entirely due to their own devices given their news media limitations and the inured psychosis that results from being force fed ideas of the benefits of their specific type of freedom or democracy from their television or education system that sicken an individual or a system. The definitions of this liberty are narrow, deliberately construed as easy, posited to the general public as the solution for all. It's simply not the case, but it's often hard for Americans to see this because of a few things--to do so requires going against what is perceived to be the very idea of the American project (to spread liberty) and what support system is in place for this type of thinking? The newspapers are censored, often self-censored, and who wants to go against the grain? Also, the American standard of living, for the majority of the people, is much higher than elsewhere in the world. So the average American would think--okay, overall, it's better here. So everyone should just get on board and be an American.

When brutally compared to many countries--it is far more pluralistic in its ideology. This is its promise: You must become part of the American project (which in short is capitalistic and consumer driven in its negatives, but there are other positives which have to do with the idea of the individual and the expression of self and the power of group dynamics to fashion a better ideal) but once you are on board, we will do what we can to understand and lead you to live out your difference. It cuts in multiple ways, but the bottom line is, you join as an American first, and you can wear your identity as a hyphen (or not, though again, most people of color don't have much choice--they remain hyphenated). Most countries don't allow you to join in social or other ways, so you can keep your identity (national and ethnic) which does have its sanctuary, but then you're not part of the national project in the same way.

All this stuff is nothing new. These are musings of one type of expatriate (4th generation Korean American in Asia, random I know), but the other day, I was cruising along, barreling down the road in mom's hybrid SUV (still, a gas guzzler, but more on that family conversation later) to the library for a few research hours and I got this kind of surge of energy. It comes from being in a familiar environment, but it also came to me in this odd way, I suddenly felt reinvigorated. I started to laugh. It was this wave of feeling that I have only experienced when faced with an open desert before me in the Southwest, or on a wide ocean in Hawaii, or on an endless stretch of open Midwestern plain, but here I was in the Memphis streets with ugly signs for fast food chains and it came to me. It was not entirely about belonging (which in more watery fond memories occurred when strolling down a wintry street in Seoul or looking out on a rocky shoreline on the Korean coast) It was about agency. Or the illusion of agency. To suddenly be sentient and aware of one's movements. And potentially to connect this to a larger idea. To believe in something wider, some kind of possibility of the human society and democratic project, a belief in what one might do in this brief life, to be a participant in a way that went beyond my immediate concerns of my dissertation and child, and the usual ways we volunteer to better our community. And this brief moment of epiphany or a sublime state had, I realize, a stake in what I perceive to be, even from afar, the project as espoused in that strange shaky rhetoric of the Dream....

Self-invented. Entirely personal. Individualistic. Incorporating in its genesis and scope, however, a belief in what a society might espouse to be as a process of becoming rather than an end point. The caveat: knowing that it will not come to fruition, for the self, or the larger group and yet not letting such knowledge quell a belief, but rather, shape it for a pragmatic way forward...
--

OKAY hours later...but thinking about this, so I should add this is only one entry here, and not fully developed. Will have to think about this more--the details of the American Project, it's significance and potential reach.

A complicated contradictory country.


Some thoughts, 2011...from an American in Memphis

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Learning Gender Terms

Keohi has a little pal here, 5 year old Kaylie, a little girl. There's a big difference between 4 and 5. This was today's conversation I overheard.

Keohi: Okay, so that's my husband!
Kaylie: What husband?
Keohi: My husband! This is a husband, okay?
Kaylie: You can't have a husband. You're a boy.
Keohi: I have a husband. My dad.
Kaylie: Your Dad is your husband? What? He's not your husband.
Keohi: Yes.
Kaylie: Weeellll, okay. Your dad is not your husband.
Keohi: Weeellll, okay.


A few day's ago the car conversation was this:

Kaylie: And I had nail polish.
Keohi: I had nail polish too! I did pink nail polish!
Kaylie: You can't do nail polish. That's for girls.
Steph: Keohi and I did nail polish together.
Keohi: Pink.
Kaylie: Pink is for girls.
Keohi: My dad likes pink.
Kaylie: Huh?
Steph: Yeah, Keohi and his daddy like pink.

Interestingly enough, Kaylie didn't really seem bothered by any of the content, nor really surprised and just kind of rolled with it. At 5, you're still open to whatever is presented to you. But the window shuts pretty quickly after that, is my guess. I guess the key is how to keep the window of possibility and potential wide open. How is it that we come to think in narrow constricted terms? How does that gentle nudge that helps to define who we are one way or another, push us both to understanding and creativity? How does tolerance work?

Keohi, Kang Rhee, Martial Arts and Me

Keohi took his second Pa Sa Ryu (a style of Korean martial arts similar to Karate/Tae Kwan Do/Tang Soo Do) class yesterday. He's in the Little Dragons class. He went to my dad's maternal cousin's dojang Kang Rhee. Kang Rhee (www.kangrhee.com) is my one claim to pop star fame as he was the guy that taught Elvis Presley karate--and to that end, received a Cadillac, guitar, a weekend in Las Vegas, from the King, and even now, his studio is visited from Elvis fans from around the world. I remember Tetsuo actually came to Memphis from Japan to study with him. Tetsuo also worked as an Elvis impersonator on the weekends in the Mississippi casinos. He sang at my Dad’s birthday one year. He was a pretty good Elvis.

Elvis Presley had a profound effect on Memphis and like many small cities or towns, it’s people’s proximity to certain celebs that govern perceptions that others have. In Memphis there are probably different ways to calibrate your social register rankings, but Elvis is probably one of them. But it’s not easy. My now retired dentist was once asked to be the Graceland dentist. He declined the offer. Apparently, you had to be on call all the time. Who wanted to get called to do a teethcleaning in the middle of the night? Even if it was Elvis’ teeth?

Anyway, Kang Rhee made a big impact on my own life. I studied with him rather seriously in 1994 and would best describe my existence then as about 75% karate. I was obsessed, and then later taught it when I was back in college. Now I’d probably kill myself doing a kick, but back then it was way of thinking and not a bad one at that. I learned a great deal from him, and from people who studied under him. I consider it an honor that I had the privilege to be in his dojang for the brief time that I was there. I had many good martial arts instructors, but he was one of my best and most influential.

Kang Rhee has his own myths here in Memphis. Legend has it that when he first arrived in Memphis in the early 1960s, all he knew were the words “Follow me” and that people did. He built a big school here and was one of the first to bring martial arts to the U.S.—he did demonstrations in Madison Square Garden and was on the karate circuit with Bruce Lee and counts among his comrades the real old-timers, the first of those to bring their art form from Asia to the States.

Frankly, I’m not a sports fan, but the one sport I would be pleased to have Keohi learn, if not love, would be the martial arts, so I was happy to see him run and kick and punch. To do it well requires grace and coordination and an execution of movement that is like dance. It has been years since I was in a studio and watched anyone and there was Kang Rhee, at age 70, still demonstrating with strength and agility the technique of a man decades younger. Amazing. You can have all of the science and stem cells and research, but the truth is a life based around movement, repetition of physical motion, a sensible diet and routine patterns is the key to longevity, and probably piece of mind. I’d say that’s how Kang Rhee lives and I would also say that I have met only a handful of other people who live the same way. But truly, a master can only be judged by his students and there was too, a young man who did a great demonstration of a form. Kang Rhee is a good teacher.

My own off and on journey with martial arts began at the age of 10 when my mother dragged me to a judo class after neighborhood chicken fights left me crying. I was rather small, and this was Iowa, and guess what, kids picked on other kids and at the time, I was not always, but sometimes a victim of this in the neighborhood. Mom being from the ole pineapple plantation in Waihawa was probably not keen on seeing me be a wimp.

A few days later I found myself in the presence of Dr. Hahn and Paul, his son, and his son’s friend, David. Two little 10 year old boys and myself. For about a month I went once or twice a week and learned to flip and fall correctly (actually, I still knoll the roll and a few good blocks from that time—not necessarily the same ones used for Pa Say Ryu) and it completely changed my sense of self-worth.

When the school bully decided to pick a fight on a kid in front of the drinking fountain, shrimpy yours truly stepped in gallantly to defend the honor and socked the bully right back. I was a head shorter. Kids were yelling. We had to have the fight broken up by the school librarian and my 5th grade teacher. Hauled into the office, ole Robby the bully started to cry that I was beating him up. I was just freaked out that my mom would be called so said nothing, just sat there watching Robby cry and cry. In retrospect, it must have looked pretty funny to the teachers. Here I am this dinky tiny Asian girl with glasses who sits in the front row and never gets chosen for sports teams and has her head buried in a book so much that they once asked my mother to test my hearing because I blotted out the entire classroom when my nose was in the book. And there, accusing me, the guy that was briefly, a friend in school that played in the younger grades kickball with everyone, but who was slowly turning into the Alpha A boy on the football field, kickball field and every other outdoor arena of that elementary school. A boy ruling with all of the power that young boys can muster. He led teasing and pushing. He was tough and mean, goodlooking and not so bright to be threatening, and not so dumb to be dismissed. The All American Boy. My guess is that the teachers probably had a lot more fondness for Robby than they did me, given where I was in school (rural Iowa) and what Robby represented (American boyhood!) and what I did (Weird immigrant!). But there are always surprises in life. Needless to say, I wasn’t picked on in school after that point at all. I had changed my way of being. It wasn’t about being able to punch someone, it was just feeling a little more confident. But as a result of knowing the life of a victim, I am extremely weary of the dynamics that surround children’s behavior. Punching Robby was a serious turning point in my life. A difficult, but important lesson. And probably for him, too.

Children are the products of their environment. And as such, are perfectly capable of being cruel, merciless, and ruthless. This may be a result of abuse that they themselves experience, but those kids on the receiving end don’t know this and ultimately, it’s something to watch out for. I’ve always hated people who blather on about how innocent children are. What that tells me is that they’ve never experienced life on the receiving end of a bully. Those Lord of the Flies moments in life forever change your ideas of humanity. It doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive or understand, but what you also realize is the level of inhumanity that a child can inflict on another can be quite extraordinary. Some people who are bullied in turn bully others, but hopefully, some turn out quite the opposite.

Keohi may or may not face such challenges as a biracial boy, at least in Hong Kong. But I know that the culture of boys is difficult and based a lot on physicality – strength and dexterity, and to a lesser degree, potentially beauty (unlike girls, but that can be a whole other source of misery in and of itself I know). Hopefully the martial arts will help him along in life. It helped me.