32 tagged with #family

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crackle


i cook by sound; my mother taught me that i'll know that the oil is hot enough because the tiny crescents of delicately sliced green onions would 'make noise'. they'd cry out from across the room that it was time to push them around, to release the chorus of pops. when the crackling subsided, i'd know that it was time to add in the egg. i'd judge whether or not i started too soon based on the bubbling the underside of the egg made; a wet gurgling indicated a good time, while a rapid sizzle ending in silence told me that the egg had instantly quenched the heat of the oil.

my mother trained me to listen for a quiet mumbling when the flatbread was ready to be flipped. the lid for the wok was opaque, so i couldn't judge it by sight. now, my lid is glass, and it's allowed me to be lazy and use my eyes instead of my ears. sometimes, it steams up so much that i can't see what i'm doing, and i have to remember what the wok sounded like when my mother told me it was time to open the lid, back when i was too small to see into it anyway.

if you open the lid too early, you let out the steam, you let out the pressure, and the dumplings deflate. the dumplings have to steam inside their skins, stretching outwards just enough to toughen up so that they give just right when your teeth cuts through them. they'll wrinkle a little as they cool. they'll still taste good, for sure, but they won't taste as good.

cooking is tactile. cooking is auditory. cooking is a lifetime of old memories and instincts and preferences that fade and change over the years. 'what?!' my mother would exclaim when seeing me add generous amounts of ginger power to the soup base. 'i never taught you to do that. who taught you to do that?' she'd protest, a little offended, but a little curious. i've lived places she hasn't. i've cooked with people she'd never met. i've been fed with palates that she avoided.

i was chastised through my childhood for being a picky eater, and returned to her kitchen as an adult who is rarely known to turn down strange food; i've discovered that she's the picky eater, and projected her disappointment in herself onto me.

this is okay; i can bring strange food to her little island and help her learn to eat it.

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31 January 2018 21:11


glasses


'no one wants to be the kid with glasses,' my mother chided before they started vision tests at my school. 'look at some of your classmates. first grade! already needs glasses. such a shame.' she made words of pity towards those kids, which came from a position of superiority. glasses were for people who were flawed, who had a weakness, who watched too much television or read too much at night.

we knew my vision wasn't perfect, though; as long as i can remember we played games where i'd cover an eye and point to a stationary object, and see that my right eye drifted far to the left, and that letters turned to smudges if i covered my left eye. i cheated on vision test day, because i did not want to carry the shame of needing glasses at age six. i cheated on every vision test given to me for my driver's licenses, because i could not make out the required line of smudges with my right eye.

'there's no right or wrong answer,' the ophthalmologist assured me last week when i stuttered my way through the chart. 'just let me know when those letters start getting hard. have you ever failed a vision test at the dmv?'

'no, but i've always cheated on them.'

'never worn glasses. so, we won't give you something too strong. obviously, you can see just fine to get along.'

the world bows out towards me in the middle now; when reach up to grab something, my knuckles smash into it before i think it's reasonable to extend my fingers. if i turn my head too fast, everything becomes a blur, but i know that it looks like that when i'm not wearing glasses. commit to a week of this, i assure myself. text is easier to read. i spend a lot of my day reading text. small things have gotten harder to see. i have access to getting a device made just for me to attach to my face to combat the fatigue i've given to my eyes over the past three decades of living; i should give it an honest shot.

i'm not yet sure if this is helping or hindering. i have not admitted to my mother that i went to an eye doctor for an honest evaluation.

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30 January 2018 20:36


highballing


what's attracted me to this? it's not the purity of climbing without gear. it's not the adrenaline rush. it's not a sense of glory. it's almost not even the sense of accomplishment.

here's what i did: from the ground, i scrambled up a few moves until i suddenly found myself concerned about how to handle a fall. i've reached this point plenty at the climbing gym, but because i trust the human route-setters, i have a vague expectation for where hard moves are placed and how falls can be protected. on a natural rock, that expectation is gone. i never know how hard a sequence can get until i finish it.

i found myself fumbling across the wall whenever i got nervous. i'd plant both feet and one hand, and trace the other hand around my full range of motion, carefully inquiring with every notch for something that feels like home. if i found nothing, i'd shift my feet slightly to reach a different range, then try again. once one hand felt happy, i'd repeat the exercise with the other. once both hands clicked, i moved the rest of my body and started over.

there was one move my brain refused to let my body execute, and i realized i was sliding towards a dangerous emotional state because the giant jugs i had latched onto started getting warm and moist. i only realized this after i lifted one hand to search for a move, then returned to the safe spot, only to be surprised by how warm it suddenly felt against a palm that had aired out for five seconds. i knew from an earlier lock-up that dwelling on the fear could easily set off a feedback loop, and i had already climbed far past a safe bail. at the same time, i knew i couldn't fail to engage with the fear. acknowledge it and move on. make a plan. try something new.

when that lock happens close to the ground, i can just let go, plunge shin-deep into the soft sand, then walk back and sit down to catch my breath and look at what i couldn't yet do. at twenty feet, that has to happen in-place.

i remembered a lot of phrases that mentors and friends had fed to me when i've been stuck while they were holding the other end of my rope. 'if you need to rest, take a real rest.' 'don't flail.' 'your body knows how to do this, your brain just doesn't want to.' 'drop your heels.' 'bring your arms down.' 'put your hands on your chalk bag.' 'you're safe, i've got you.'

it's strange to do this when no one's got me. once or twice, i looked down and made eye contact with the other climber who was watching me go through this. he's been through this. he didn't say anything, he just nodded; i was trapped in a loop and i needed something to break me out of it. i needed some acknowledgement that i was real, that what i was doing was valid, that i had the ability to make good decisions and protect myself.

i hadn't yet learned to give that last nod to myself. i got one from him, then i turned back to the wall and breathed. i knew what it meant, and it wasn't yet the time for me to think about why i needed that. maybe in the future, i won't, because it'll be one more moment i can add to the script i play for myself when i need to remember to breathe.

i like to watch other people climb because i rarely climb like other people. my limbs are short and i'm not strong and i'm not flexible. i don't like proceeding with something unless i have a very high chance of success. i move in lurching, choppy little scoots, and i'm constantly twitching and adjusting my clothes and wiping my hands or face.

i like watching people who climb well and climb strong, because i don't perceive myself as one of them. i know that when i get to the same point on the wall, i am unlikely to find the same move. i enthusiastically scrape as much of my body against the wall as possible, and i frequently cross my feet because i'm bow-legged with out-turned toes.

i don't know what it's like to watch me climb. sometimes, people tell me if i looked solid, or if i looked shaky. today was the first time i had someone tell me he was terrified; i knew my father wouldn't take his eyes off me while i was thirty feet off the ground with no rope, and maybe a desire to show him this part of me reminded me to keep moving upwards.

i said later that i don't climb to perform for people, and i don't climb to show off, and i don't climb to prove anything. the more i climb, the more i know that's true. i climb because there's a part of my brain that i cannot reach unless i am clinging to the kneecaps of an old volcano, asking the spiders in the cracks to not bite the fingers i was feeding them, and questioning all the choices i made in the instant i left the ground.

usually, i do this while someone i love and trust is holding an object that i believe will save my life if i've made a mistake. today, i had to explain to my grandmother why what i did was objectively an extremely selfish and irresponsible thing, while she was in the middle of laying on praises i felt uncomfortable receiving.

i don't allow myself to make choices that i would later regret. i told my father, after he confessed to nearly puking with relief when i threw a shaka from the top, that i would not let myself make a move unless i could guarantee that i could either make the next move, or return safely to the ground. i reminded him that i'm a coward, and that this is something i have to do in order to come to grips with my cowardice (by the way, dad, i also nearly puked with relief at the top).

there are lots of things in the world that can kill or maim us. we are soft, weak bodies, with extremely limited abilities of perception. earlier this visit, i watched a couple of hikers scramble onto a concrete platform; i knew that the inside had rotted out, and that the platform balanced precariously on crumbling rock and rusted rebar. they couldn't see it from their approach. i shouted a suggestion that they climb down and look at it from my side.

sometimes we walk on ground that is a thin shell over a hollow cavern. this is not a metaphor. our city streets run over cavernous sewers; the floors of our buildings are propped up with supports we cannot see. once, i walked over what looked like rock near the road in the desert, but it made a sound like a knuckle against the side of a double-bass, and i knew what the inside of a karst looked like. i looked over at where we'd parked the car. i looked at where the road cut between the dunes. nothing felt safe. nothing is ever safe.

sometimes, i feel how three of my fingers notch perfectly into a chip in the rock, and the rock encourages me to press against it. it's easy to straighten out a leg and feel my body rising gently through the air. it's a powerful, intoxicating feeling to know that i have lifted myself off the ground, and that the rock is helping me. occasionally, the rock moves under my hand, and i remember that the sense of certainty and stability is all an illusion, and i have no more reason to be afraid when i can't reach the ground than when i think i'm standing firmly on it.

does that mean i should be afraid all the time, or does that mean i should never be afraid?

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09 January 2017 19:41


remnants


i'm down to the last few soft-leaded pencils gifted to me from my late great-uncle, who was the first blood relation that made me believe that i might be a valid human being. the lead has shattered within the core over twenty years of moving, packing, sharpening, angsting. i can feel the wood splinter with a careless turn in the sharpener, and i flinch.

i can still use it like this. i can still hold it tightly enough to keep the last bit of lead from slipping out. i can't even read all the words printed on the side of it anymore, other hand 'hwa', 'drawing', and '6b'.

i remember drawing animals in distress, broken hands, full moons, stretched faces, with this pencil. i remember my great-uncle looking over my shoulder and encouraging me to make more shapes, to look at volumes in the world and think about how falling light creates shadows to define them to our eyes, to adoringly fill my sketchbook with illustrations of my life, my spaces, my dreams.

--

the rain continues to pour. i watch the radar because i cannot see the clouds from where i am, and i try to guess when the holes will reach me so i can go grocery shopping without getting drenched. whenever i put on my helmet during a break, the rain starts again before i reach the stairs.

welcome to autumn. welcome to days and weeks and months of rain. welcome to waiting for the day when it becomes too cold for the rain to reach the ground.

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18 September 2016 19:53


de


i'm rifling through stacks of notes haphazardly tucked into old manila folders, and here they are. pieces of paper ripped out of a notebook, on which my father frantically scribbled the names of our only remembered ancestors. "you have to remember them," he implored, tapping each name with the tip of my pen while i winced for the nib he was bending. "you have to remember them, and remember what was done to them." i nodded and took them from his hands as i stepped into the line for security screening. we'd see each other again, soon, but in that moment, it felt like we were being ripped apart forever.

i grabbed my cousin's arm; he would escort my father back to the family apartments. "take care of him," i demanded. take care of him, because even i don't know how.

---

i'm the only one named with the family generational tag. i'm fourth of seven in this generation, and the first one to be born overseas. "i'm guessing your father gave you this name because he wanted to feel more connected to the old home," my oldersister-cousin surmised. "it's a really old-fashioned thing to do, but i like it. it's romantic."

---

"i'm pretty sure i was always meant to be american," my father proudly declared in chinese, in a context i've already forgotten. "i was just born in the wrong place."

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19 January 2015 12:37


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