Talking about the TV I watched as a kid can usually be summed up with “I didn’t have cable.” Which is to say that I was raised on a mix of public television, soap operas and broadcast sitcoms. Considering I was an only child and my parents were happy to use the TV as a babysitter, that means a lot of tube time.
It’s more embarrassing to admit that a lot of the TV I watched were Chinese series or variety shows. Instead of books, my parents stuffed our shelves with VHS recordings of movies they borrowed from their friends. I suspet that my Chinese school and the Asian church we attended every weekend were actually underground trading posts for VHS cassettes. They had to originate somewhere, and my guess is someone would rent the latest shows from one of the two Chinese movie rental places in town, copy them, and send them out into the world like an exotic flu.
You could tell when a VHS had been around the block too much based on the quality of recording, but you’d just have to fill in the blanks for all the times the tape stopped working, or full episodes were blurry and had to be skipped over.
When other kids were watching Star Wars and The Rugrats, I was watching my favorite Chinese tv shows over and over again. Which is why my knowldge of pop culture is horrendous. I actually enjoyed the shows even though most were about kung foo or middle-aged people getting divorced. It served as one of the few activities I could share with my parents and provided us a common ground. Did I need to watch the 30-episode series about the single mother who rediscovers her career and falls in love with her boss? No. But I would watch it all day with my mom if it meant we could talk about how dreamy he was.
My favorite was Fortress Besieged, which I’d started watching around 5. I knew how to recite many of the lines by 6, but had no idea what they meant until I reached my teens. Lucky for me, it was much less soapy and considered one of the classics.
It’s basically a satire about a man in his 20s who is a loser but has pretty good luck in life because he’s handsome and is helped by the wealthy family of his dead fiance. The story follows him from his 20s into his 40s, showing vignettes of the people he meets and their travels to no-name college in the middle of nowhere to become teachers. The third-person omnicient narrator has a really cynical but witty view of the world, and no gender, race or class if safe from his harsh criticism.
Maybe it had a bigger influence on me than I realize. But if that means I was getting an early dose of reality, let me be a world-weary 5 year old. No mid-life crisis for me.
The title is from this idiom: Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.
The main character and his girlfriend who dumped him when she found out he had been engaged