34 tagged with #family

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life goals

occasionally, my father tells me about someone else in his table tennis club celebrating an 80+ birthday. i've met some of them; they slide slowly to the table, moving in the cautious way of elderly folks who know what a fall might do to them. with a paddle in hand, they still seem so gentle on themselves in directing their body into the right position, but at the last moment, a snap that i can't see catches the ball, which flies viciously in low, precise arcs further than i can reach. and then i realize that they're not truly moving in slow motion; they can keep up with the rapid volleys the teenagers throw at them, punishing sloppy recoveries by dropping a ball into a dead spot.

i tell my parents, who occasionally express conviction that their lives are over and they need to start conserving what body parts they have left, that it is possible to remain mobile and responsive and active until the moment they die. that's what i'm aiming for, at least.

nearly every time i go on a hike, no matter how hard or how punishing i think it is, i'll get passed by someone my parents age, breezing through without a bead of sweat. i don't understand it, and i can't wait to get there.

12 April 2018 22:08

an egg

(note: this entry mentions animal death.)

when i was a kid, my mother extracted a robin's egg from its nest and handed it to me, telling me to show my father. i ran to him and opened my hand, but only found crumpled shell pieces and an incomplete bird stuck to my palm.

01 April 2018 00:37


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

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