32 tagged with #family

( page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 )


the family housing block always fell silent for a few hours after lunch; during the hot beijing summer, afternoon naps helped pass the roughest time of day, leaving more energy for activities after sunset.

but i wasn't accustomed to daily naptime, and neither was the other us-raised kid visiting her grandparents on the ground floor of our apartment stack. so when everyone fell asleep, we met in the courtyard, tiptoeing and whispering once we learned how much sound carried.

the empty lot next to our building held a stack of coal two stories high; all through the year, a few cartloads at a time would be added for the winter stash. we were strictly banned from playing in it, so of course we did, carefully walking up the sides without stirring up black dust onto our clothes. later, we'd rinse our legs and hands and wipe smudges off our faces.

what i didn't notice, though, was that the coal dust worked its way into my sandals, coating the bottoms of my feet so i'd carelessly leave black footprints in the entryway between changing my sandals for house slippers. of course i'd get scolded, of course they'd call my mother back in new jersey and tell her what i got up to when everyone was asleep.

there were some things they didn't report home, though; the times i'd ride on the back of my aunt's bicycle when she'd drop me off at my wushu lessons on the other side of campus, or the time she let me take her motorcycle around the block for laughs, or the times the other american kid and i confessed to missing lunch because we had snuck into the undergraduate dorms to hang out with college kids.

i can't imagine what i would have done in college if a couple of fifth graders caught a door wedged open for the smokers and casually walked into the first room occupied by people having a good time.

17 March 2018 15:31


my mother tells this story to anyone who hasn't heard it. at age eleven, we stepped out of the beijing international airport, and i screamed, dropping the handle of my suitcase to whip my hands over my face.

'what is this? what's this stuff getting into my eyes? i can't see!'

my aunts and uncles who came out to meet me for the first time, they laughed. 'is this what an american is? it's just wind, child.'

i remember a dry heat blasting me, sand that the wind dragged across the continent burrowing relentlessly against my skin. everything sought water, the moisture of my breath, my mouth, my eyelids; dry things stuck to wet things. that's how it worked. i put on sunglasses. decades later, i'd learn about desertification, china's massive terraforming projects that drained rivers and crumbled landscapes. later, i'd stand on a spit of land protruding from the empty quarter, marveling at how it could be simultaneously humid from the arabian sea and arid from a chalky earth that resisted water.

my mother, who grew up between the dirty dense crush of humanity within beijing's walls and the desolate northern steppes, still laughs when she tells this story to her friends, of a child she raised in a land so lush and clean that being blinded by a summer windstorm caused an existential crisis.

16 March 2018 20:02

little braids

this was the most recent time i visited my parents. i stepped into the elevator, an armload of groceries that i insisted on carrying to spare either of them the effort. my father held the door for one of the building managers. 'oh!' she said, looking at me in surprise, studying my face and my father's face. people have always told me we looked alike; i wouldn't know. 'your son! ... sorry. daughter? i'm so sorry! your son??'

my father laughed. 'it's not the first time, it's not the first time,' he assured her.

because earlier that day, my father's youngest sister called me on video chat so she could see my face, 'it's so weird,' she said, her voice somewhere between awe and poison after she shared her bafflement at the shaved sides of my head, the mass of dreadlocks spilling down to my waist. 'you look like a nice young maiden from the back, and a weird boy from the front!'

i was sure it was meant as a jab; from across the room, my mother yelled at the tablet i held. 'i lucked out with this one, you see? i only had to put out the effort to raise one kid, and got both a son and a daughter.'

my cousin, a few years ago, said: 'you see, it's good for us that you come and visit.' she touched the knotted strands, still learning to bind to each other at that time. 'last time, you came here with blue hair, and no one on campus knew what to think. this time, look at how many people have blue or orange or purple hair! next time you visit, i'm sure we'll all have braids like yours.'

there isn't a chinese word for dreadlocks that they know; they all call them braids. little braids, little braids. how can you have so many little braids, cousin? that is hair like the africans. our hair is too smooth and thin. how can you do that?

'you can do this,' i once assured a security guard who gently touched my hair at my invitation.

'i'm half korean, my hair's so straight,' she wailed.

'i'm all chinese and no black, and it worked for me. you just gotta stick with it. i believe in your hair.'

14 March 2018 23:04

house bones

the noise startled me as i pedaled by; a rattling, like cracked thunder, or an impossibly large snare drum. smells drifted, parting as i pushed through, raw sawdust and smoke. it was the house, the house that had been demolished months ago, and raised from scratch.

i had watched in disbelief as its feet were embedded under the soil even as i thought it was too cold for concrete work; the noise i heard was sheets of tyflec, stretched thin across the skeleton frame to protect fresh-placed plywood, vibrating in the strange late season winds.

my mother once read from a journal she kept when i was a child. "here, we went for a walk past a house under construction. i pointed at it and said, 'look, this house doesn't have windows yet!' and you said, 'it does have windows, they just haven't installed glass.'"

i don't remember that day, but i remember countless others: of when i snuck into incomplete houses to walk along the bare foundation, the earth a dozen feet below me; of when i crept through hanging forests of electrical wire and scattered power tools; of the racks of screw-gun bandoliers i stole to keep under my bed because i liked to twist the plastic; of climbing piles of excavated dirt, sometimes sinking, sometimes filling my shoes and socks and wondering if i could clean the tar off my clothes before my mother noticed.

i know what the inside of a house looks like, the space between the walls, the gaps between the floors. sometimes, the idea that we are separated just by being in different rooms seems a farce.

21 February 2018 22:05

fish tales

i remember a day when my parents and i brought a white paint bucket and a fishing rod to the dam and strung worms on hooks and threw them into the water all day long, and caught nothing. i remember watching my father tie the worms in knots so they wouldn't fall off. i remember the dingy water that smelled like rotten fish.

we watched in disbelief as a group further down pulled fish after fish from the water, catfish that scraped the mud off the bottom of the lake and came up squirming. they'd always throw them back, until they noticed us staring. after a while, they started keeping the ones they caught in their cooler once they'd finished their lunch, and when they were leaving, they dumped the whole cooler-full into our bucket.

maybe we really did look hungry.

my mother made fish head soup, putting a cut, gape-mouthed, greyish face in my bowl so i would have the most nutritious parts. i didn't like seeing it.

once, a summer flood came and went so fast that the sides of the road were full of fish, still flopping. my father's baby brother was visiting us; he yelled for the car to stop, then jumped out and scooped fish into his shirt. 'fish soup for dinner, fish soup for dinner!' my father's family grew up on starvation rations during the great leap forward, and once tricked one of the other brothers into eating sheep droppings by first saying they were candy, then saying they were special medicine. i didn't know if picking half-dead fish from the muddy ditch was also a joke.

years later, i followed the farm dad around during his evening chores, and he pulled a bass from a bucket; it was still alive, but he needed to dress it for dinner. he cut into it on the chopping block next to the chicken shed, eying me over the wet ripping sounds that i was fascinated to listen to. 'i'm not sure your parents would want you seeing this,' he said.

'why not? we've had fish before.'

it was grilled whole, but i had to go home before it was time to eat.

08 February 2018 21:59

( page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 )

  Commons License this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. for more details, please see my license information.