Asian Girl Problem #135: Boys & Dads

This one goes out to M, whom some would call my “ex boyfriend” but always and forever a friend–a label that transcends time and change. And I know he be lurkin’ my blog.

I think one of the reasons two people like ourselves who are quite awful at traditional dating made it work is because we respected our friendship. Even when we were knee-deep in crap and crying to Alanis Morissette, we always knew our compatibility and love for each other as an individuals would be there, preserved, when we were ready.

Some people tell me it’s not common to be able to talk about new loves, sex, and the past with an ex without the slightest emotional baggage. Totally true, which is why I don’t often meet people I want to date. I don’t feel any pressure or self-righteousness in staying friends, but it’s just easy. Which I suppose is the case for every good relationship.

Anyways, this isn’t called Asian Girl Cupcaking. Today I remembered this time when we were dating when I had a really disappointed face on and M good-naturedly said he could imagine exactly what my dad looked like when I came home from school as a kid with an A-. And that that would also be the same face my dad would have if and when they DID meet (spoiler: they didn’t) and he discovered I was not dating a Chinese medical professional.

 

My dad dated one person in his life, ever. Doing more would’ve gotten in the way of his focus on his PhD so yeah he’s a real romantic. Never having introduced him to a boy, I don’t know how he would’ve acted if he met M–white, bearded, towering 10 inches above him. Would he crack the dad jokes I could barely understand under his thick accent, as he did with my girl friends, or would he have become a dad I’ve never seen, the dad of TV shows, who sits at the head of the table and grills the guy about his future goals and family history?

I hope I find out one day. I hope I get to introduce my parents to at least one Asian guy and one non-Asian guy at some point, just so I can compare their behaviors in a future post. Also for a future post: I’ve never seen him kiss my mom on the mouth, not even a peck, which I hear from friends is typical in Chinese families. Confucian propriety? Loveless marriage? Extreme hygiene?

 

Asian Girl Problem #132: Undermothered

This is probably not a surprise, but I quit my corporate 9-6 job about a month ago. What started as a great environment with coworkers I enjoyed turned sour when each of my peers got fired/quit, leaving upper management and interns (who also eventually left) to hire a whole new office. In the new culture (kind of felt like an all-white sorority), I wasn’t comfortable and didn’t respect most of the work. But I stuck it out for another 5 months because I really wanted to put in a year.

The unhealthy coping habits I developed–as I always to do when chained in a desk–reached a boiling point. Too much coffee and sugar, few meaningful interactions, minimal creative outlet and zero motivation drove me to hedonistic evenings and weekends. It also, thankfully, caused me to escape into books again. I spent mornings reading and started going into the city early before work so I could feel human before joining the machine. Reading x yoga x weed is a good temporary antidote for modern life.

But then a few hiccups in my personal life caused a breakdown where I thought I seriously lost a shred of sanity that I’d never get back, and would become my mother. So I gave my two weeks, and found a new job–it’s everything I want at the moment. It involves food/drink/literature/writing/community events, is close to home, run by good people, and lets me work an ideal schedule. In short, it meets all of my ridiculously picky standards. Too picky for someone my age. If you’re thinking “This bitch is spoiled,” I wouldn’t argue.

That’s a quick update on life events which I’ll come back to in detail another day, but what compelled me to blog again is a post that caught my eye on Facebook today. Specifically, the word “unmothered”. Everyone has their triggers and this concept of being unmothered is the strongest of mine.

Ya’ll know the broad strokes–my mom has suffered from severe depression/anxiety since before I was born, and I caused her postpartum depression. She has the resilience of a toddler, could never hold down a job, dislikes most people, and has suffered from mental disorders across the spectrum.

But she was always in the home–so I was not unmothered, as such. She picked me up from school, cooked, cleaned, and participated in family outings. She was also there to spy on me in class, rifle through my things, and teach me how to have an eating disorder (I didn’t follow through). When she was angry, she was there to throw shade and tell me I ruined her body and that I shouldn’t ever have children. When she was sad, she was there to disappear into her room for days, refusing to speak to my dad so I’d have to be sole caretaker and intermediary.

I cursed her dead so many times, wishing I was unmothered. And I think about the very traditional aka melancholy Chinese song she always sang when I was young.

In short, “Mom is the best in the world. Kids who have moms are like treasure…Kids who don’t are like a lone blade of grass…”

When I was four years old, my mom was pretty and young which was all that mattered. I was in love with her femininity. In the summer when she wore cotton dresses, I was moved to request this song over and over again while we sat on our apartment stoop. I snuggled deeper into her skirt and pitied the poor saps without moms in the song. We were inseparable until I turned five, and then our wavelengths crashed. My mother was sad and too wrapped up in her naivete to give the emotional support a super sensitive kid like me needed. She couldn’t understand how I could be unfulfilled when I had food to eat and clothes to wear–I was so demanding. And I knew she would misunderstand or ignore my feelings, so I stopped sharing them.

And here we (and my secrets) are today. A lot of us, especially those who clash culturally with our family, are underparented. It’s not all bad–I’ve been afforded hefty silver linings by having an absent mother. I learned how to support myself emotionally and have also been mothered by other sources, like my dad, girlfriends, pop culture (bleh).

None of it follows the the pomp and circumstance of a Mother, though–the Mother who wants to hear about for your first bra/period/boyfriend, soothes you through breakups and sickness, and just shows you through example how to be a good person in the world.

But not having all that is perfectly fine, and probably applies to the majority of us. Mothering or fathering has nothing to do with sperm to egg contact. I’d like to be a better mother and father to myself and especially other people. Amidst all the interactions, friendships, relationships whatever, that’s the spirit that could make us all feel less lost and more found

Asian Girl Problem #130: Taboo Tattoo, Or The Futility Of Life

I’ve said before, my two motivations for loving and getting tattoos are

  1. It reminds me of the impermanence of life and flesh
  2. it gives me something to hide from my parents, which actually alleviates anxiety for me. As their grips get looser over time, it’s nice to know that there are still some things that would keep my mother up at night

Actually my mom did see the first tattoo a few years ago, but I easily convinced her that it was a ballpoint pen drawing that I could wash off. Dad saw it at some point too, and totally surprised me with his reaction. I was sure it would be many years before they’d see the most recent one on my bicep, but here’s how it went down. Today at lunch.

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Dad lifting up sleeve: I got so tan in China
Me lifting up sleeve of shirt I strategically wore because it covered my upper arm: I’m tan too!
Dad raises his eyebrows and stares at me
I stare back deer in headlights style, burst into nervous giggles
Mom’s off in her own world, babbling about summer heat in China. Finally notices my fit: What?
Me: Meh, nothing. I ordered a lot of food for us so we could share…
All resume lunch
Afterwards, walking to the car with my mom out of earshot: Thanks for not telling mom. She would think I got cancer or AIDS
Dad: Those needles are dirty
Me: This is America. They use disposable needles they open in front of you
Dad: It’s best not to do anything so permanent
Me: Nothing matters

I think I’m done with tattoos for now, seeing at they’re not so taboo anymore. I have just one more planned–a “who cares” stick and poke on my thigh.

Well, maybe also a cabbage in the shape of a skull.

Asian Girl Problem #112: My Dad, the Champion of the World

This unexpected aphorism on the last page of Danny the Champion of the World is one of the reasons it’s my favorite childhood book. I remember the first time I read it, perhaps around 10, and being blown away by such a simple story. Unlike most of the books I loved, there was no mystery to be solved, no dating drama, no space/time travel, not even female characters.

Obviously, I knew Roald Dahl was a visionary, just not that he could top fantastical stories of witches and giants. I’d go to his section in the library and work my way around every book under his name, always avoiding DTCOTW, partly because of its thickness and unfortunate cover illustration.


Its magic lies in simple, evocative details and the love between parent and child. Roald taps into what, I dare say, every kid wants—more than dragons and video games and drugs—an amazing mentor who’s curious and not only lets, but goads his/her to explore every natural curiosity.

Like Danny’s dad, mine was the type to suggest we build a kite or sew a doll instead of buying one at the store. He took me on hikes and let me taste berries and flowers (he knew his botany). He included me in every home improvement project and let me take apart any appliance I wanted to so I could look at the tiny electrical landscapes inside. Even when I was in high school, too cool to entertain his whims, he kept doing them because he genuinely liked building clocks and whittling hideous wood figures.

The main narrative of DTCOTW involves a peasant heist where they fill raisins with sleeping powder and feed them to the peasants that live in the woods of a gross landowner who’s out to destroy their indie gas station—random but awesome. Reminds me of the time my dad stole two geese eggs from a nest near our house and took them home to see if we could make them hatch. We put them  in a makeshift incubator and two months later, it was safe to say they wouldn’t see this world. Even though we knew it was messed up, we did it in the name of science.

Asian Girl Problem #107: The Aftermath

“Would your parents approve of me?” he asked around the time we decided not to swap fluids with other people.

“I don’t know. I tell them I wont be introducing them to anyone until they need to know. (aka, if i ever have the fortune of tying the knot, sometime after setting the date and before said date.) It’s easier that way. They’re crazy.”

“What would happen if they found out?”

“My mom would be anxious about me all the time, call every day asking what I was going, pop in for surprise visits (too late!), and turn everything into a heavily-veiled sex talk. My dad would probably pretend that you don’t exist.”


Since I ended up missing out on all the action, I can only summarize the event from pieces I’ve gathered from the boy and my roommate:

I popped into the shower, and he and his friend headed out for some coffee. Just as they opened the door, my mom walked up.

“Do you know [Asian Girl]? Are you her boyfriend?”

After an awkward stall, he confirmed. Small talk followed. (Which I can’t even imagine because my mom claims not to speak any English, which in reality means she only speaks English when no one else is there to talk for her and it’s absolutely necessary.)

“We’re going to get some coffee at Whole Foods. Can we get you anything?”

“No, our family is downstairs waiting. We are going to restaurant.”

My roommate came home around this time, and I came out of the bathroom in my towel, blind without my glasses. I said greeted her and looked right past my mother. I think I said “Hey!” mistaking her tiny, blurry silhouette for a friend of my roommate’s. I continued to my room to get dressed. The boys left, and she switching over to asking my roommate questions.

By the time I came out, the apartment was empty except for my roommate. After learning what happened, I went downstairs, and found no one, so I called my dad. Who pretended like nothing happened.

“How’s mom?”

“She’s fine. We were wondering if you wanted to get lunch with your aunt/uncle before they headed back to Santa Barabara. Since you weren’t picking up your phone, we thought we’d come and wake you up…”

“Is mom mad?”

“No, she’s fine!”

“Put her on the phone, then.”

I started explaining to her in vague terms what happened, why I wasn’t picking up, and how they’d crashed at my place because this guy was visiting from out of town.

“That’s fine. Be safe. Have a good day.”

—-

She calls me at lunch the next day, chipper as ever, updating me on life’s insignificances. I have to broach the topic.

“You mad at me?”

“No! if you’re happy, I’m happy. Just don’t want to see my kid tricked or taken advantage of.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve dated before. I’m a rational person. I can take care of myself. I just like to keep some things private. I won’t do anything stupid.”

“I’m SO relieved! You know I like to worry. Hearing you say that makes me feel so much better.”

And on that vague note, the conversation ended. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

—-

“She was nice,” he told me later.

“NICE?!”

There are some assumptions to make if I’m to believe this gross exaggeration.

1. She is glad to finally have proof that I am attracted to males.
2. She thinks there’s a possibility I might escape spinsterhood.
3. Her dreams of my marrying a Chinese doctor die a little with each passing year.
4. She maybe possibly didn’t completely hate this sweet, adorable boy.

However.

1. I can’t get out of the shower now without stressing to find my mother standing there.
2. Thinking about her is an instant boner killer–and I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
3. He has a new joke of sticking his hands down my pants at times when I least expect it and yelling “What up, mom!”

Asian Girl Problem #106: Sex, Drugs, Soda

There are roughly a bajillion articles online about introducing a non-Asian guy or girl to your parents, or having them find out prematurely (any day before a wedding day is not the day, in my opinion), or dealing with families who disapprove. My story basically follows the same plot as all the stories of my youth. Despite being a really good kid, I’ve hidden a lot of things from my parents to 1. save everyone time/strife, 2. protect good things from being ruined by them, 3. maintain their angelic/chaste perception of me.

Keep doing the same thing, and life follows the same patterns. (But I’ve gotten away with a lot more things than not.)

When I was a kid, my mother would tell me not to eat candy because it would make me fatter. But I still did whenever our teacher rewarded us with it. Because I am not a moron. But one day she came to pick me up a little early, and saw me throwing a Tootsie Roll wrapper into the trash and flipped her shit. Yelled at me the entire drive home while I bawled that I hadn’t eaten the candy, but was throwing away trash I found. At six, I learned the art of bluffing for the first time when she got home and picked up the phone, threatening to call my teacher to verify. As soon as I confessed the truth, I realized she had tricked me. I was sure she didn’t have the phone number. She lectured me for days afterwards about how lying leads to sex and hard drugs. I got much better at sticking to my lies after that.

When I was a few years older and developed a bad habit of biting my nails in class, I’d see my her head looking in my classroom window sometimes, when she wasn’t working. Yes it was terrifying. She claims she did it more than I realized.

When I used to hang out in the hip neighborhoods in high school on weekends, I saw my parents drive by us once. They say they were conveniently in the area. I say they were trying to see if I was with a boy who wanted to date me. Joke’s on them–I was with a girl who wanted to date me.

When I was in middle school, I hung out with boys outside of class no more than a handful of times and the only time I can remember is the time we ran into her at the grocery store. We’d stopped in to buy some junk before heading to one of their houses to watch a movie. But she yanked me home and lectured me the whole way back on how I was the stupidest person because I put myself in a position to be raped and soda would kill me.

When I was taking a shower yesterday, my entire family–I mean my parents/grandparents/aunt/uncle thought it’d be nice to surprise me at my apartment to take me to lunch, because I’d been too busy that morning to answer my phone. I walked out without my glasses into my room, totally bypassing my mom, who, unbeknownst to me, was talking to my secret boyfriend, his friend, and my roommate. In between interrogating my roommate for information, she also asked about some charred waffles that I accidentally set on fire earlier that morning–I’d put them on the counter as a joke. Now she either thinks I am mentally disabled for eating carcinogens or doing some kind of waffle-looking drug.

 

Asian Girl Problem #101: The Bright Side to Yellow Fever

Over the weekend, I hung out with a girl who is totally chill with being fetishized for being Asian. Granted, she is from the East Coast and only 21 years old, so perhaps she hasn’t had enough negative experiences to have the same reaction I do when I hear those two dingy words: yellow fever.

Back story: our dads were best friends and college roommates for four years, and we spent several childhood years together when our families lived in Ohio. We’ve always gotten along despite being complete opposites (she’s the first person I’ve met to be my complete Myers-Briggs opposite). 15 years later, she’s still the bubbly, flirtatious, attention-loving and highly confident girl I knew. Still obsessed with boys and talking about sex too loudly in public (or in our parent’s car at seven years old). After re-meeting each other during the holidays last year, we exchanged numbers. I promised to show her around the city sometime. Since she was living with her parents and didn’t want them to know about her online dating life, I agreed to be her alibi. I’ve always wanted to be an older sister–even if it was to a girl who had twice the amount of sexual partners I’ve had.

So when we finally got together for reals so I could make good on my promise, the evening naturally turned into a gabfest about her relationships. Having never lived in a city with a large Asian population, she’s been overwhelmed with the amount of racially-charged attention she’s getting, and loving it. She recently started dating a college senior who’s in a fraternity, and swears that every attractive guy in his house has an Asian girlfriend. She insisted that every race has a thing for Asians, while I tried to argue against it–partly to deny her the satisfaction, and partly because I refuse to believe in a world like that.

She busted out this chart:

Image

 

Did I vomit a little? Sure. But after living in an area that ‘s hyper-aware of interracial dating, it was useful to be reminded that people can still have different interpretations of heated issues like yellow fever.

Later, the dude I’m dating (details later, maybe) joined us and was promptly bombarded with many embarrassing affronts from my tipsy family friend, ranging from asking him for dating advice to giving him shit about not learning Mandarin because it’s “better with parents.” There is one thing she said which I didn’t mind, though–

“[Asian Girl] doesn’t usually like white guys.”*

Out of all the awkward moments from that hazy night, that moment remains the most vivid. Each time I remember it is like a nerve somewhere in me is being lanced. What she said is both true and false. I was mortified, yet satisfied. Maybe that’s how I feel about the whole thing in general, so it makes all the more sense.

*Dude’s response was a safe but genuine “I’m honored.”