Politics

September 10, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I must admit that I am a political junkie. If it weren’t for the kids, work, my wife, and her insistence that I take a shower every single day…I could watch the evening news shows indefinitely.

I get a kick out of watching the verbal sparring, the veiled insults, the accusations that are thrown about and then denied the following day – and that’s just from the political pundits.

Our democratic process is often messy, but it’s something we have all come to expect, coming from the world’s oldest democracy. I wouldn’t trade if for anything else, and it comes as no surprise then, that in other, younger democracies, the process can get downright scary.

I’ve watched clips of the Taiwanese legislature get so heated that actual fights have broken out in session – sometimes between men and women. In one session, I saw shoes being thrown between legislators. There were penny loafers, wing-tips, pumps, and stilettos – projectiles launched at a high rate of speed. I haven’t seen so many shoes tossed about since the last time Nordstrom Rack had it’s semi-annual sale.

I checked Taiwan’s constitution and under Article 11, it states, “The people shall have freedom of speech, teaching, writing, and publication.” I double-checked to make sure no one had added an addendum like “…but if you disagree with what someone has said, feel free to fling your footwear in protest.”

Back in the U.S., it occurred to me that if the current vetting process is good enough to elect someone as important as a president, wouldn’t that same process be just as reliable in making some of our everyday decisions?

To test my theory, I decided to try out this strategy while interviewing someone who was interested in being our babysitter.

The following interview took place between the baby sitter, (or in more politically correct terms, the PALF, which stands for: Pre-Adult Life-skills Facilitator) and me.

ME: Thanks so much for coming down to see us. Tell us why you’d like to be our PALF?

PALF: Well, I love children, and I find it rewarding to take care of kids.

ME: I see here that you used to be a Girl Scout and you’ve won some awards for selling the most cookies.

PALF: Yes, sir.

ME: Were you aware that cookies in general are loaded with carbs and sugar and if consumed regularly and in large quantities could play an adverse role in our children’s future obesity and hypertension problems? Why would you, someone who claims to love children, intentionally encourage behavior that effects our kids lives, and by extension, the lives of a future generation of kids?

PALF: Sir?

ME: What I need to know now, and what I think our kids have a right to know, is whether their PALF is Pro-Health or Pro-Snack?

PALF: Sir! Of course, I want all kids to be healthy but…!

ME: Why the evasiveness, PALF? Next topic – I have a picture of you and a friend standing in front of what appears to be an Eminem concert, is this true? Is it? Is it? I need an answer!

I immediately end the interview as I see her take off her shoes.

When I was a child

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

There’s an unwritten rule that all parents abide by when raising their children. This rule supercedes all other rules of parenting, whether it is applied intentionally or not. Though the following may not be the formal title of this rule, I believe it is generally recognized as the “When I was a child…” method of parenting.

Comedian Bill Cosby once described how his father invoked this rule when noticing that young Bill was none too eager to walk to school. As I recall, his father said, “When I was a boy, my school was 20 miles away. I walked in bare feet, with 30 pounds of books, uphill…both ways!”

My parents never used the rule intentionally, but then again, they never really had to. Having come from China, my parents both lived in stark conditions devoid of all the conveniences we take for granted today, but there was also the ever constant threat from the Japanese invasion during World War II, as well as the communist takeover of the country. Compared to my childhood in the 70’s and 80’s in a middle class neighborhood in San Diego, I didn’t need many reminders – I knew how fortunate I was – I had a happy childhood.

Of course, this now leads me to my problem. I am now a father, who along with my wife, are raising three kids. While I have every intention to continue the tradition of the “When I was a child…” method as it has been passed down from generation to generation of parents before me, I am having a hard time coming up with appropriate examples of my own that would instill a measure of guilt in my own children. So far, none of the examples I have from my own childhood inspire much sympathy.

I’ve listed a few examples and you can be the judge. Here goes:

When I was a child, we didn’t have a remote control to change the channel on the TV. I had to get up from the sofa to change the channel myself until I started ordering my little brother Steve to be the remote control.

When I was a child, automobiles didn’t have child safety restraints or car seats, for that matter. In fact, you weren’t even required to wear a seat belt. When we got in the car, my brother and I were usually in the back of our Ford station wagon with the back window rolled all the way down. Any sudden turn would fling us from one side to the other. It was just a part of growing up. Head concussions build character.

When I was a child, public bathrooms didn’t have sinks that turned on automatically when you placed your hands in the bowl. Back then, there was a button on top you pressed to get the water started and it only lasted .65 seconds every time you pressed it. In order to wash your hands properly you had to perform an elaborate yoga move and place one foot on the button to keep the water running.

When I was a child, we didn’t get anything fancy for our school lunch. Our menu consisted of bean burritos, fish sticks, soybean hamburgers, and milk. Each day during our lunch break, I would try and open the small, individual sized carton of milk, which was nearly impossible because every time you folded back the carton flap, the spout never opened forcing you to jam a finger into the lip of the container to get any milk. On top of that, the school supplied each of us with one straw made from wax paper, which would immediately go limp after the first sip of milk. Struggling to suck milk through a limp, soggy straw one drop at a time, I’d often black out halfway through the carton.

It’s ironic how a happy childhood could lead to a parenting crisis. I’ll put some more thought into it after I finish my soybean burger.

The great American novel

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Dear Len
(Note:  Here is some of my work.  Some of what follows was not really intended for print, primarily because  it was something personal I had written, but it does give you some idea of my writing.  The following letter was written as a cover letter to editor’s like yourself, with the intent of leaving it exactly as it is as if I forgot to delete some of my own notes to myself.  I hope you like it.)

Dear Editor,

Wayne & Dave Barry I am writing this personal letter to you today because I would like to be a columnist in your highly reputable newspaper, the {insert one of the 50 newspaper names you are sending this to here}.

From what I understand, the kind of background you would like to see in a potential columnist is someone who has a long literary track record, preferably someone who has written regularly for a newspaper or someone who has successfully published a number of award winning articles.  At the very least, I would assume that you would like to hire someone with a strong journalism background.

As someone who has none of these credentials, I will instead ask you to drop whatever preconceptions you have and consider the virtue of “editorial risk-taking”.

As the editor of a respected publication like “insert same newspaper name as in first paragraph”, I am not talking about the type of risks an editor takes on stories dealing with a controversial issue.  No, the type of risk I am referring to relates to the queasy feeling you would have every other day when you looked at the column in your newspaper written by someone who for all intents and purposes would be better suited to writing posters for garage sales and lost dogs.

In fact, I’ll be the first to take credit for writing the following poster:

Missing. – 12 year old dog named Kramden.  A loving family misses him desperately and is offering a reward.  However, if you expect more than twenty dollars in compensation, Kramden prefers “Letterman” over “Leno” and sleeps best when he has access to expensive leather shoes.

Fortunately, I believe risk taking has it’s benefits.  First, as an acknowledged novice to the business, I am not looking to get paid (unless you actually expect me to write something now and then).  In addition, while I have written creatively for years, I have only now found the time to pursue it as a profession.  You see, as a father of triplets, I have been too busy saving coupons for diapers and carpet cleaners to do much else.  But now that the kids are 3 ½ years old and no longer in need of my parental guidance, I have stories to tell and time to kill.

You can imagine that as a father of triplets I have plenty of stories to draw upon for a regular column.  As my first major effort as a columnist, I intend to devote an entire month to parenting and call it, “Who Moved My Cheese and why on earth did someone squish it into the VCR?”.

I have been told that the key to success in my efforts to write a regular column for a(n) {select one of the following words (established, respected, successful, ground-breaking, or industry-leading) here} publication like yours is to narrow my focus to a specific topic.  After much consideration, I have decided to focus on the human condition, or as least as it relates to issues like personalized remote controls, getting my anniversary confused with my dog’s birthday, my innate ability to select and buy stocks at their peak value, or well, personalized remote controls.

All kidding aside, writing has always come fairly easy to me and I have been encouraged by friends and family to pursue it.  My hero has always been Dave Barry.  To me, I can think of no better occupation than one in which you have a chance to put a smile on someone’s face every week.

I hope that ASIA could use a bit of that and I look forward to hearing from you.

Most Sincerely,
Wayne Chan
###

Chinese Family Reunion Dinners 101
For those of you who may attend a Chinese banquet or are Chinese and are planning a big get together with family, I have compiled a set of guidelines that should help you in your preparation.

My qualifications?  My parents have 17 brothers and sisters among them.  Growing up, I attended so many family reunions that I sometimes wondered when the separation occurred that justified having another family reunion.

With that said, here are some helpful hints on how to proceed, in chronological order:

You must select a restaurant (Chinese, of course), in the most concentrated part of town, on a busy Friday night (in your local Chinatown), preferably with no free parking in the vicinity that will force you to drive past a number of pay parking lots in order to park free in a dimly lit alleyway close to a neighborhood pawn shop.

Once you have arrived, you must make sure the restaurant you have chosen has ambient noise loud enough to drown out any kind of meaningful conversation.  After all, this is a family reunion.  It’s not the time or place for any kind of small talk.

Once the restaurant has been chosen, adults are seated at one table and children sit at another.  All tables are round and large enough to seat approximately 15 people.  All children must sit at one table, regardless of how many are in attendance.  If there are so many children that some must share a seat or play “tag-team dining”, so be it.

The first big test of the evening is in ordering the appropriate dishes.  The dishes ordered for the adults must be so expensive that you may need to get a second mortgage on your home to pay for it.  However, it is important for you to give the impression that you always eat this way, as if you normally order shark fin soup at $150/bowl.  This image projects success.

It is also a good idea to order something off the menu in which the animal of choice is cooked whole and presented in it’s entirety for the enjoyment of the guests.  As a rule of thumb, the larger the carcass, the better.

Dishes for the adult table are seafood based.  On the other hand, dishes for the kid’s table are carbohydrate based.  The dishes for the children must include vast quantities of starch, particularly rice and noodles.  Non-carbohydrate based dishes, such as sweet and sour pork, should include the smallest bits of the toughest meat possible, covered with a thick layering of starch, and then deep-fried beyond recognition.  As a side note, the meat within the starch must be so small as to make it difficult to detect or taste until you have flossed later in the evening and dislodged it from between your teeth.

Although it is hard to find, a children’s specialty would be a dish of nuggets made entirely of starch, then covered with flour batter, deep fried and covered with a gooey, sugary red sauce which should eliminate any nutritional value whatsoever.

Finally, for budgeting purposes, the dollar ratio between dishes served for the adults vs. children should be approximately 35 to one.

When the first dishes arrive, it is best to ask the waitress to slow everything down so as to make each course a test in patience.  Chinese tradition dictates that true prosperity allows the family the luxury to slowly enjoy their meal.  If, in the course of your meal, you notice that the newspaper delivery boy is going about his rounds, you have accomplished your task.

During the meal, the role of all those who attend is to show mock amazement and to beseech the host that they have ordered too much.  This is a customary ritual designed to convey the guest’s observation that the host has enough money to feed a small army.  The host must respond in kind by ordering five more dishes.

Another Chinese custom is to communicate your pleasure in the dishes by eating as loudly as possible.  This conveys the pleasure you are experiencing to your gracious host.  Once the sound level of smacking lips and gums begins to sound like a chorus of tap dancers, you have made your feelings known.

Towards the end of the meal, the roles of the elders in the party are somewhat different.  It is their responsibility to grade each dish based on how much they disliked it.  The grading scale is between a B- and a D, and it is customary to add some judicial comment along with their evaluation.  Comments such as “The fish in that dish is too fishy tasting” or “This used to be one of their specialties” are always acceptable observations.

After the last dish is finished, toothpicks are handed out so that everyone in the party can join in a round of teeth cleaning.  Of course, etiquette demands that while one hand is poking and prodding, the other hand covers the mouth to obstruct any direct viewing by others seated at the table.

At the end of the meal, the waitress will promptly present a bill for the evening’s festivities.  It is at this point that at least two or three of those in attendance must argue over who will pay for the dinner.  The negotiations that ensue must be loud, insistent, and unwavering.  It is customary and even suggested that someone grab the bill and walk towards the waitress with the intent to pay.  It is also appropriate for the other person to follow him and grab their shoulder in order to continue bickering.  However, tripping the person as they are walking up with the bill is considered to be stepping over the lines of proper etiquette.

One simple tip to help determine how fervently you should fight over the bill:  For the most part, the less money you make, the more insistent you should be to pick up the tab.  This is called, “Being in denial”.

On the drive back home with each family going their separate ways, it is appropriate for the adults in the car to repeatedly question, “Why do we always have to go through the same thing every time we get together?”  The children, slouched in the back seat and stuffed to their ears in carbs, should promptly respond by burping in unison.
###
Fix the screen door,  I’d love to!

True or untrue, there is a commonly held belief by most men that once they are married, their wives dedicate themselves to getting the men to change.

Change your wardrobe.  Change your attitude.  Change your underwear.

The common complaint from a man is to say, “You married me for who I am, and now you’re trying to change that person.”  The common response from a woman is “I married you for your potential.”

As a man married for ten years, I believe I can safely say that it is possible for the wife to change the husband.  But let me also say that the reason the man ends up changing is not because we finally see the light or that we’ve matured.

It always starts with the same thing.  My wife Maya wants me to stop doing something I’m doing and to do something she wants me to do.

It begins when she starts pacing around me, like an unusual dance where she repeatedly pokes her head in whatever room I’m in.  She begins walking around me, moving items from place to place, and the activity seems to speed up to the point where I can now feel a gust of wind every time she walks by.   She is sending me a message and I know what to expect next.

Actually what she does at this point once led me to believe that my wife had lost all vision and had gone blind.  Because no matter what it was I was doing, regardless of how obvious it was – whether I was watching TV, surfing the web, or reading the newspaper, she would always walk up and ask the same question:

What are you doing?

At first, trying to be as helpful to my wife as possible due to her sudden and dramatic loss of vision, I would tell her exactly what I was doing.

I’m sitting on the sofa reading the paper..

It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that my wife was speaking to me in code and I had to decipher  what it was she was saying.

“What are you doing?” in Mayanese actually means

Quote.

Get off your butt, change the kids diapers and put their shoes and socks on because we’re late for the birthday party.  If you don’t stop what you’re doing immediately my questions will become more insistent, more curt, and you will be left in a situation where you can no longer experience any measure of joy in your life and have a wife that will only communicate with you using one word declaratives like “Fine”, or “Nevermind”.  Be certain that you will pay.  You will most definitely pay.

Unquote.

The ironic thing is that by the time she actually starts pacing, it is already too late.  I can be assured of spending the next few days in silent agony.  I chose to read the paper during what she believes is an inopportune moment and I am headed for purgatory.  There is no escaping it now.

When the pacing begins, most long-term married men react with a kind of Pavlovian response.  My own symptoms are immediate and dramatic.

I feel the first gust of wind as she passes by to close a cabinet door.  I start perspiring – noticeably.  Then I start sweating profusely and not just the usual places on your body.  I start to sweat in places that don’t normally sweat.  My stomach starts to churn as if I had just polished off a late night chorizo burrito.

A second gust of wind hits me the other way as she passes by to close some blinds, and I continue sweating to the point where I will likely need to have a change of clothes and I realize that I have lost all sense of feeling in my right arm.  My left eye begins to twitch uncontrollably and looks as if I’m flirting with the newspaper.

A final gust of wind hits my back as she goes to sharpen an already sharp pencil and I realize: a) the sweat has soaked into most of the newspaper from my hands, b) I can’t hold the paper up anymore due to my lifeless right arm, c) my vision has now become so blurry that I can’t read the soaked article in front of me anyways, and d) my twitching eye looks like I’m trying to send an emergency Morse code message.

Yet, even with all of this going on, most men, including myself, hang on to the newspaper in an act of defiance.  In your mind, you desperately think, “Maybe she’ll just go away.”

Instead,  my wife becomes a circus performer.  She becomes Dr. Zelda, Miracle Mind Reader.  All of a sudden, she displays an unnerving ability to read my mind and assess my psychological health at the same time.

She’ll stop her pacing, glare at me with her hands on her hips and say, “If you think I’m just going to go away, you’re crazy.”

I have a friend who recently got married and had a baby.  During a lunch together, he was telling me about an upcoming trip he was planning with “the guys”.  He was planning to go on a golf vacation to Hawaii for 10 days with a few single buddies he has.

Does your wife golf?
No.
Then what is she going to do while you’re playing golf?
She’s not going.
You’re taking paid vacation leave to go with some of your single buddies for a golf trip in Hawaii?
Yeah!

Excuse me for a moment as I wipe the sweat from my keyboard.

I once told my wife that I was going to trade in a perfectly good sedan for a brand new Ford truck and drive it back home later that night.  She said, “You’d better not.”

That night, after she came home from a meeting, I surprised her with the truck.  I have no memory of what happened after that.

But I do know that I will never again buy a vehicle without her expressed written consent as stated in article IV, Page IX of my apology, so help me God.

The real reason why my wife has been able to change me?  Until someone invents sweat-resistant clothes or an antiperspirant that works well from head to toe, I don’t see an alternative.

###
Written for my Grandfather on what would have been his 100th birthday.

On Grandfather’s 100th Birthday
Dear Grandpa,

Mom asked if I could write a few words about you, as your oldest grandchild, with the hopes that I was old enough to have some memories of that time so long ago.

I was a little tentative to her request because my memories of you aren’t as clear as they should or could be. Truth be told, I didn’t make the most of my opportunities to get to know you.  It’s hard to imagine you standing before me, the sound of your voice, or even your hearty laugh.

Yet I have come to realize that while my recollections of you don’t go very far, the few that do run very deep.

I remember a number of times where I would get into fights with my kid brother.  It was during all of these knock down, drag out fights with him that I was certain that my brother was some member of an enemy faction determined to defy anything that I tried to force him to do.  This was serious business and was further enforced by one or both of my parents frantically pulling us away from each other.  Of course, that only encouraged us to try and break free and pummel each other some more.

How deflating it was to see you, watching us from a distance, laughing all the while as if you were watching some loony cartoon with two silly characters that never really got hurt, and would be playing together happily a few minutes later as if nothing had ever happened.  How could you be so lighthearted about something that at the time seemed so serious, as if you knew that years later, we would be as close as could be?  You seemed to know that what we were going through was just a part of brothers growing up.

I also remember how you took up learning new languages, and learned how to drive a car in your retirement, setting an example that a life not spent continuously improving ones self is not a life well spent.  When many of your contemporaries were slowing down, I remember how you got up each morning and practiced your Tai Qi everyday, right outside my window.  No matter how the day went, everything is OK, I thought – Grandpa is doing his slow dance in the backyard.

I remember how both you and Grandmother, despite living in a country not originally your own, chose to move from our house and live independently in your own place.  In the way you lived your life, I have learned the virtue of living self sufficiently.

The one recollection I have of you which will never fade from my memory was the night the family went to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner.  You may not remember this.

We had finished our meal, and as had been the case each time in the past, I was eagerly anticipating dessert to have a slice of hot apple pie.  Apple pie was my favorite dessert.  I remember apple pie was one of your favorites too.

However, that night was different.  You had an urgent appointment to tend to, and we didn’t have time to have dessert.  I couldn’t believe that I was being deprived of the one thing I had been thinking of all day.  Although it was just one slice of pie, why would we even bother going to the restaurant if we couldn’t have dessert?  I was flabbergasted.  I was frustrated.  How inconsiderate was this?  I was angry at you – and you knew it.

Other grandfathers might have taught a spoiled, selfish little boy like this a thing or two about respecting elders by having him punished or at least lecture him on good manners.

Instead, you came over to our house the next day to deliver only a kind word, a smile, and a whole apple pie, just for me.

The lesson I learned did not fully sink in until I was told by my parents that the reason we had to leave early from dinner that night was to pick up some medicine to help treat Grandfather’s illness.  The illness, unknown to me at the time, was terminal lung cancer.

I have never completely gotten over this.  I will never get over the fact that I didn’t take the opportunity to tell you how sorry I am and tell you how lucky I am to be your grandson.

I know the entire family is planning to have a birthday celebration in your honor this year.  In that sense, you are alive and well and living within us.  Your presence is felt through the kind and generous spirit that runs through those who survive you.  You are a part of me.  I love you.

Happy Birthday Grandpa.  I’ll save some pie for you.
###
Two of our three children are autistic – I wrote this for my daughter, Savannah.

A Promise To Keep
My dear child,

It has taken me quite a while to bring myself to write you this letter.  I write this to you now in the hopes that many years from now, with a lot of hard work, patience, and no small measure of luck, this will be a faint reminder of the past.

It has been several months now since we first learned of your diagnosis.  Learning that your child has the telltale symptoms of autism has affected both your mother and I in different ways.

It has hit your mother the hardest.  I married your mother because of the way she lives her life.  She has a beautiful heart – simple, innocent and pure.  She’s worried about your future.  She’s worried about your future if and when we aren’t here to care for you.  She is sacrificing everything she has to provide for you and your siblings.

While I support everything your mother is doing for you, because it will help – I see you walking down a different path.

From everything I have read about this condition, it is like each child has a door to open.  It’s a door to your consciousness, a door to your being.  It’s a door to you.

For whatever reason, God has made your door a little heavier – a little harder to unlock.  Yet with each passing day, your mother and I are pushing a little harder on the door, and some times you manage to peek your head part way through.  While it sometimes only lasts for a second, we see you struggling as hard to come out as we are trying to get in.  Yet for each of those moments, we can see that the potential and promise is worth every effort.

A few days ago you told us you wanted to watch Elmo.  Just the other day when mom asked you where her nose was, you showed her and pointed at her nose as if you had known for years.  You laughed and mom cried, yet you were both happy.

You are already a beautiful child.  I have no doubt in my mind that you will be a beautiful grownup.  I believe when all is said and done, you will surprise everyone – including me.

Regardless of what the future brings, as your Dad, I have signed on for the duration.  You should know that you will never go hungry, be without shelter, or be without love.  As long as I draw a breath and even beyond that, you will be cared for.

Let me be more specific.

When you start walking to school on your own, try not to mind the gray-haired fellow hiding behind every bush or sign behind you.  He just wants you to show him the way.

When you start to read and run into one of those hard words, come to me.  I probably won’t know it either but at least I’ll help you find the dictionary.

When you start to play soccer, softball, or make the cheerleading squad, try not to mind the gray-haired fellow jumping up and down in the stands.  He is your cheerleader.

If there is any time you can’t do something even when all your friends can, let me know.  You can do it.

These are some of the promises your mother and I have made.   I am sure we’ll make up some more along the way.

The door will open soon enough.  Good morning, sweetheart.  Wake up, come out and play.  It’s beautiful out here.

###
The Sky Is Limited

I’m not in a good mood.

I’m currently on the first leg of a flight from Greensboro, North Carolina to San Diego that could be best described as “unfortunate”.  Yet with all the inconveniences of this flight, it does not compare to some of the international flights I’ve had to take.  I won’t let on the name of the international airline I’m referring to but I will say that it’s named after one of the most populous countries on earth and whose name rhymes with the phrase, “Fine-uh hairlines”.

Now, I know complaining about the airlines is about as original as the Rolex watch I let my three year old son play with the other day.  Obviously I’m not treading on any new ground.  I also realize that the main purpose of the airline is to shuttle people back and forth from one place to another as safely as possible.

Still, it occurred to me that much of the frustration we all suffer through with air flights at one time or another would be simply intolerable if it occurred in another industry.  Perhaps it is out of necessity, but the customer service standards employed by the airline industry are in a class by themselves – no other industry could get away with it.

Lucky for you that I have a perfect analogy to illustrate my point.

You and your significant other have decided to spend a special evening together out on the town at your favorite French restaurant.  The name of the restaurant is called, “Le Restaurant Avec Minuscules Les Chaises”, which roughly translated, means “The Restaurant with the Tiny Chairs”.

Per the restaurant’s helpful guidelines, you arrive two hours early for your dinner.  As you enter the lobby, you find yourself waiting in line to speak with the Maitre d’.  You end up waiting 45 minutes in line despite the fact that you made reservations for the dinner and prepaid for the dinner 7 days in advance so as to avoid any additional charges.  Showing up early is crucial because if you show up to the restaurant right on time, your seats and your meal will be given to someone else who didn’t have reservations or pay in advance.

Of course it’s important to remember that with this pre-paid dinner price, if you decide to order something different or God forbid, decide to change the reservations for a different time, you will be charged a penalty fee for inconveniencing the restaurant.

Once you are at the head of the line, the host or hostess won’t seat you, but will give you a slip of paper telling you where you will ultimately sit for your meal.  At this point it’s off to another lobby located about 1/2 mile down two hallways, up three flights of stairs, and across four moving walkways.

Once you have arrived at the main lobby, you quickly learn that you still cannot be seated for dinner because the chef is awaiting the groceries to be delivered to the kitchen and it has not yet arrived.

After another 30 minutes, you are finally allowed to go in the dining area where you must find your own assigned table by walking past the numbers affixed to each table.

Upon finding your table, you find that your seat is about the size of a medium-sized dictionary cover.  The chair is quite comfortable so long as you are a descendant from a Pygmy tribe in the Congo.  If you are taller than 5′10″, your hind quarters must have Crisco shortening applied to it to forcibly insert yourself into the chair.  It is also suggested that you take some muscle relaxants and be proficient in several yoga positions to maneuver your legs into the space provided for you.

After another 20-30 minutes, your waiter or waitress will approach you to describe the one entree being served for the day.  Although there is only one entrée, it is important that you be notified of what is being served, because once it is served you will be hard pressed to identify what you are eating without prior notification.  The food is most often unidentifiable upon visual inspection and after tasting it, with the entire meal served on one plate and each course conveniently congealed into the shape of the compartment of the tray it is resting on.  I am uncertain whether it be best for me to eat it or perhaps save it as a roll-on bug repellent that can be used during my next camping trip.

It is possible to have more than one choice of entree for your meal, by paying for a higher level of service.  This service, sometimes called “First Class”, means that you will be segregated from the “Have Nots” in the back of the restaurant and into another section of the restaurant with better service, larger dining areas, and better food.  The only drawback of this service is that it usually costs 15-20 times more than the regular meal.

At this point, the meal is served.  Dinner is served in mass, with a set time to consume all that is placed in front of you before it is promptly whisked away by your server.

During this time, should you hear nature calling and require a visit to the restroom, you will be unable to do so as the waiters have blocked off access to the rest rooms with the trays of food they are serving.  Even if you were able to somehow vault over the waiters on your way to the rest rooms, it’s unlikely that you could move out from under your tray of food as it is basically wedged between you, those around you, and any potential escape routes.

Well, my flight is about to land.  What a relief to be home.  This gives me just enough time to beat the Friday afternoon traffic and renew my driver’s license at the DMV.

What’s so funny?
###
At The Top And Bottom Of The Food Chain
One way to describe our expectations at mealtimes at our house is to say that it is similar to what our expectations were when we went to see the film, “Gladiator”.  You didn’t know what was going to happen, but you could be sure it would be long and messy.

Our mealtime ritual starts with rounding up the children and strapping the three of them into their high chairs.  This task alone necessitates the use of various accessories, including straps, buckles, trays, ropes and pulleys.

The adult server, usually my wife Maya or our nanny, prepares a meal with the intent of providing something well balanced and nutritional.  On the few times that the responsibility has fallen upon me, my objectives are to prepare something that can be cleaned up using a broom and dust bin instead of a mop, sponge, and hydrochloric acid.  If it happens to be nutritional, even better.

I suspect this is why Maya doesn’t really trust me to be in charge of the kids’ meals.

Getting children to eat at mealtimes can be a chore because each of them likes different things.  I believe one value I have as their father is that I can be a perfect testing ground to determine those foods that they do like, because they are usually things that I like as well.  Sure, Ethan might want a banana, Savannah might choose spaghetti, and Tyler might ask for fried rice, but it’s a safe bet that I can find common ground with the introduction of chicken nuggets.

This brings up another point.  For those of you with kids, you will know where I am coming from.  At the end of a meal with toddlers, a lot of food is going to be left on the floor.  Children view food as more than something to eat – food makes up the basic building blocks for pre-school science projects.  Have you ever seen a child throw food on the floor?  They do it on purpose and with great intent.  There is no other reason to explain the systematic way they throw food on the floor. They didn’t accidentally knock that sippy cup to the floor.  They were crash testing it.

With spaghetti, Savannah will inevitably want to use it to reproduce some type of DNA gene sequence model on the floor.  With cereal, Ethan will want to observe how gravity influences the varying rates of velocity between the flakes and the milk as it drops to the ground.  Tyler will assess how quickly our white carpet will absorb milk versus another substance, such as cranberry juice (Just in case you were wondering, three seconds to soak up, 90 minutes to clean up).  In every case, the experiment creates a myriad of challenges for the hazardous waste collector (i.e. the parent) responsible for cleaning it up.

The chicken nugget is the perfect food.  Besides being the common denominator of foods for the children, it’s easy to clean up, stays in one piece regardless of how many times it is propelled to the ground, and it bounces.  This is what I am referring to with the phrase, “When the  rubber hits the road.”

Beyond the scientific experiments, mealtime at the Chan household is a little like watching a wildlife preserve. Our two dogs Odie and Bingo have taken on the responsibilities to be on hand during the kids’ meals in order to snatch up nearly anything that the children throw to the ground.  Maya thinks this is a disgusting practice.  I look at it more as our own little domesticated circle of life.

The parents earn a living to be able to afford sustenance for their offspring.  The children, in turn, eat what they can and give the rest to the animals so as to avoid waste.  What Maya finds abhorrent is that the party that first provides the nourishment is also the party that cleans up what the dogs have “determined to be inedible”.

Such is the circle of life when you are at the top and bottom of the food chain.
###
The Power Of Three
I am the father of three-year-old triplets.  I couldn’t think of any other phrase that could so completely define my current life, such as it is.  For those of you who have experienced parenthood already, well, yes of course, you know a little about what I’m talking about.  But more importantly, if any of you could forward a list of reliable baby-sitters in my neighborhood, I would greatly appreciate it.

What sets triplets apart from say, three kids born two years apart is how every aspect of your life becomes a function of grouping tasks together.  I refer to this activity as “Bundling.”

We buy diapers in bundles of three.  We buy everything in bundles of three.  You will rarely see one child without one of the others in the near vicinity.  When we travel, we have three carseats in a minivan (the bundlevan) that has the space to carry triplicate bundles of milk bottles, wipes, animal crackers, and bananas.

For those of you who were wondering, yes, we do have a triplet stroller (the bundlemobile).  Our triplet stroller is a perfect example on the power of bundling.  Bundling, we have found, brings the masses together with a kind of hypnotic “Field of Dreams” effect.  If you bundle it, they will come.

On one of our first outings together as a family, we decided to visit the San Diego Zoo and their newest attraction – the only Panda cub in North America.  In San Diego, where we live, news of the cub (named Hua Mei) was everywhere, on the news, on billboards throughout the city, even a “Panda-Cam” on the Internet.

On our way to the Panda enclosure, a small group of kids started following us, peering over the bundlemobile, angling for a view of our moving exhibit.  As the number of onlookers increased, our outing soon became more like an entourage, with our one year old triplets playing the roles of pampered rock stars on their way to destroy a hotel suite (which they are perfectly able to do, by the way).  Their “groupies”, which now numbered over 20 people, brought our entourage to a grinding halt with little likelihood that we would get to see Hua Mei anytime soon.

As our attraction eclipsed the people there who were actually watching Hua Mei (and in fact, seemed to be drawing people away from there), the thronging masses weren’t really interested in holding the kids or touching them, but seemed content to take pictures of them standing next to them like some sort of national monument.  Of course, they asked us all the standard questions and comments (Are they identical? No.  Which one was born first? Tyler. You certainly have your hands full. Yes.).

After I was done selling lockets of their hair for souvenirs (at a premium by the way, considering how little hair they had at that time) and  T-shirts printed with the words, “Proceeds go to the Triplet Education Fund”, I wanted to think of some way to disband the entourage and see Hua Mei, since that was the reason we were there in the first place.  It seemed that I would have to wait until everyone had gotten their fill and moved on their merry way.  At the moment, we had led to Hua Mei being orphaned as there was nary a soul at her enclosure.

Now, if they had a bundle of pandas, that would have been something.

###
And The Award Goes To
Dick Clark is my hero.  More than any other job, what Dick Clark does for a living should be the goal of every young person in America.  For the last 40+ years, Dick Clark has made it his specialty to present and/or award the most entertaining music, film, and television of the previous year.

I suppose he’s been on my mind given the fact that over the past week I have seen and heard from him about 47 times on every media outlet possible.  Let’s see, first I saw him on one of the bloopers shows that he hosts, then I heard him hosting his radio show Rock, Roll & Remember while I was jogging the other day.  Then, of course, being the first of the year, I watched him host the New Year’s Eve countdown last night.  He also seems to produce a whole range of awards shows, from The People’s Choice Awards to the American Music Awards and even a Country music awards show, I believe.

If I could do it all over again and had to start a brand new career, I would give some serious thought to getting into Mr. Clark’s profession.  I don’t know how many entry-level positions have the title of “Professional host of Television/Radio shows and producer of award shows” there are, but hey,  if there were – I’m there.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no doubt that Mr. Clark works tirelessly and is a true professional.  Still, who wouldn’t want to have his job?  I mean, think of what it might say on a job description:

Must be able to identify funny and embarrassing film clips of Hollywood stars flubbing lines or acting goofy in television shows and movies.
Must be able to reminisce on top 40 rock and roll songs from the 50’s and 60’s.
Must be able to duplicate existing awards shows (Oscars, Emmy and Grammy) for movies, television, and music industries and create categories that will ensure that everyone wins something and that big stars attend the function to collect shiny statuettes.

The last time I checked the local TV listings, there were 27 awards shows for television, music and movies and 135 Country Music awards shows.  Certainly, this isn’t all Mr. Clark’s fault, but you would think that with such a bevy of awards shows, the biggest trick would be to come up with some unique award categories to differentiate yourself from all the other awards shows.  Here are some suggestions I’d make to Mr. Clark that might just spice things up.

Best vocal performance by an artist whose song no one will remember two weeks from now.
Best Country artist based on how many awards they have already won on the other 134 country music award shows.
Best documentary on the “Making of Survivor.”
Best awards show produced by Dick Clark.
Best acting ensemble which includes huge Godzilla-like monster.
Best acting ensemble, which includes huge reptile creatures (excluding Godzilla-like monsters).

I suppose all this leads me to conclude that the real reason Dick Clark never seems to age is 1) You would never grow old with a job as cool as his, and  2) Seeing him every day over the last 40 years makes it difficult to notice how he has aged because he looks the same as yesterday – the last time you saw him.

###
Beijing, 90210

I was browsing the L.A. times web site today and the top headline read  “U.S. Diplomats Meet With Spy Plane’s Crew.”  Much has been made in recent days of the (apparently) accidental collision between a sophisticated U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter off the coast of Hainan, China.

This is what I’m certain of –a U.S. spy plane has landed in China after gathering data on the country.  The U.S. is intent on keeping the plane and it’s highly confidential equipment out of the hands of the Chinese, but is basically helpless in preventing it from happening.   The U.S. has stated emphatically that the plane is off limits to China which probably will only further China’s efforts to board the plane and inspect the equipment as thoroughly as possible.

Reporting from San Diego, California – this is Wayne Chan reporting.  Back to you, Tom.

How did I become so informed on this international incident?  From my contacts overseas?  From my extensive knowledge on Chinese diplomacy and defense policies?

I read about it in the L.A. times web site.

Every time there is a major incident involving China, various friends and associates will ask me for my opinion on the situation.  The questions all come from Caucasians.  I’m never asked about the ongoing strife in the Middle East or for my take on the Mad Cow disease plaguing Britain.

Whether it had to do with the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the Tiananmen Square crackdown or this latest incident, I have been asked to provide my profound insights into the machinations of the Chinese government and it’s people in light of some very serious situations.

While I take the questions seriously, I find the context in which they are asked to be amusing.

I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  From there I moved to California where I have lived my entire life.  My wife, who was born and raised in Taiwan, sometimes refers to me with the Chinese phrase, “Jia Zhongwen” , which means “Fake Chinese” because my favorite Chinese food is fried rice and because my language abilities would make most four year olds burst out laughing.

I have a dog named Bingo.  I drive a Ford Explorer.  I actually considered buying a DVD on Survivor: The Series.  I go to work wearing Daffy Duck polo shirts.  For Heavens sake, my favorite dessert is apple pie.

Where in the above bio does it read or imply, “Chinese cultural spokesperson”?  I suppose the truth lies not in what people see in my words, but what they see in my face.  I find no offense in it because there’s no one means any harm.

At one point, I just started going along with it.  This morning someone asked me whether I thought the crewman aboard the spy plane were in some military quarters or actually in a jail.  My response started out with the words, “My sources have told me…”.

It reminds me of a Richard Pryor routine where he tells the tale of his first visit to Africa, and upon meeting up with some tourists (white, presumably), someone asks him about some drums they hear, beating in the distance.  Richard, his hand cupped to his ear looking as if he understands every beat of this African morse code responds with something like, “You folks need to go back inside right now and lock your doors.”

I get a kick out of turning the tables on my friends and colleagues by asking them for their inside scoop as people “in the know.”  I’m amazed at how little they really know of World Wrestling Federation’s “Smackdown”, Scientology, bowling techniques, campaign finance reform, and why Rosie O’Donnell has her own magazine.

All kidding aside, I am as proud as anyone of my Asian heritage.  I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout Asia for business as well as fun.  In fact, I’ve even been to Hainan, the island where the crewman are currently being held.  But equating my brief visits in Asia to a presumed knowledge of U.S.-Sino relations is a bit like asking someone who has visited Las Vegas once or twice who he thinks will win in the next school board elections.

I have my opinions, and nothing beats being knowledgeable enough about a particular topic to be able to respond to a China-related question with an intelligent and thought provoking answer.  But more often than I’d like to admit, I have had to respond to a question in a way that doesn’t force me to admit that I don’t have a clue.

At one point, fearing any response I made might actually expose my true ignorance of the topic at hand, I started coming up with responses that would be extremely unrevealing but so general as to make them impossible to refute.

1.  With an autocratic system like this, it was only a matter of time.
2.  Of course, but the real question  is, “How will Greenspan react when this hits the overseas markets?”
3.  I wouldn’t go that far, but whatever we do, U.S. credibility is a moot point.

Any follow up questions should be followed up with an annoyed expression of disbelief meant to chastise the questioner for not knowing the answer themselves.

###
If You Really Want Sweeter Soup, Add Sugar!

In my life, I am the son as well as the husband of workaholics.  Both my father and my wife are workaholics.  Anyone that knows either of them could point it out immediately.  They have accomplished so much in their lives, and very little has come from being lucky.  As my father has said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

What I’d like for everyone to consider is not really the virtue of being a workaholic, but the unfairness of a society that does not appreciate the rest of us who are not workaholics.  It is much too simple a task to define the characteristics of people like my wife and my father.

I looked up the word “workaholic” in the dictionary.  It defines “workaholic” with four simple words:  A compulsive worker, industrious.  If one were to describe oneself as a compulsive worker and industrious on a resume, I doubt many employers would have much to complain about.

The question is, what do you call people who aren’t compulsive workers, who work hard, but aren’t consumed with accomplishing something every waking minute.  My mother is a perfect example.  While my mother doesn’t have a compulsion to work all the time, she more than makes up for it in the area of having common sense.  She distinguishes what needs to be done, as opposed to what can be done.

I once observed my mom cooking a pot of soup for dinner.  Looking over her shoulder, I could see that she had dropped two or three ears of corn into the pot.

What’s with the corn cob in the soup?
Killing two birds with one stone.
Ah ha.
And the corn even gives the soup a sweeter flavor.
Hm hmm.

Now, a workaholic would insist that cooking soup is one thing, cooking corn is another.  Are you cooking soup or heating up corn?  You can’t cook the corn with the soup because the soup’s main purpose is to be eaten, not as a conduit to cooking the corn.  Whatever liquid you used to cook the corn must be thrown out as it had already served it’s primary purpose and you certainly cannot throw out the soup.  Yet, by cooking the corn with the soup you have compromised the role of the soup and for all intents and purposes it cannot be used for anything.  If you had really wanted the soup to have a sweeter flavor, you would have added corn to the soup recipe in the first place.  Otherwise, the sweet flavor you get by cooking the corn in the soup is really just “collateral damage.”

Therefore, in order to clearly separate the roles of the two items, a workaholic would need two pots, two stirring utensils, two cooking thermometers, clearly marked utensils on which spoon goes to what pot, a “I’m in charge” cooking apron, duct tape, and plastic sheathing to separate the items.  Nothing is ever easy for a workaholic.

While I couldn’t find an antonym for workaholic, there were plenty of suggestions on words that are the opposite of industrious.  The one word that stood out from the rest was the word, lazy.  On behalf of all the other non-workaholics out there, let me be the first to protest.

It is true that if I had my druthers, my dream job would be to be a lifelong employee of the Nielson Rating Family instead of having to work for a living.  I suppose it’s also telling that when I had the opportunity to visit The Great Wall of China, I took all of a half hour to soak in the grandeur and history of the wall before I hightailed it back into the air conditioned comfort of the tour bus.  Of course there’s also that system I created to categorize my wardrobe into various classifications to avoid having to do the laundry.  I’m wearing a “semi-clean” shirt right now.

But that in no way means that I’m lazy, and after reading the definition of the word, I wouldn’t admit it even if I were lazy.

While the dictionary lists just four words to define workaholic, there’s quite a bit more to define the full meaning of the word lazy.  Let me list just a few.

Disinclined to activity or exertion : not energetic or vigorous, encouraging inactivity or indolence, moving slowly : sluggish, droopy, lax, not rigorous or strict.

Need a synonym to help further clarify the word?  How about slothful?

Curse those Merriam-Webster folks.

Just because I once bought a watch that also doubled as a TV remote control doesn’t make me a couch potato.  Just because I procrastinated a little in hanging some baby ornaments in the nursery when the kids were born doesn’t make me indolent.  We ended up getting top dollar for those new, never out of the box decorations at last month’s garage sale.   Just because I ignore reading instructions when I’m assembling some IKEA furniture doesn’t make me lax.  The fact that there are a number of pieces leftover when I’m done just means that that end table was over-designed.

Okay, so maybe I waited a little too long to get rid of last year’s Christmas tree.  But, what you call a dangerous fire hazard I call a terrific opportunity for the kids to get an up close perspective of Mother Nature at work.

You may call it laziness.  I call it an efficient use of resources.

Instead of the “L” word, how about a more appropriate phrase, something like “Work-averse” or even better, “Diligently disinclined”.  If I ever get motivated enough, maybe I’ll even start my own movement.  Ah, who am I kidding?

Maya sometimes jokes that my butt is permanently sealed to the living room sofa in front of the TV.  She doesn’t realize the role I play and how it can come in handy.  I just can’t wait for her to change her tune when she absolutely needs to know who was selected in the first round  for this year’s NFL draft.  Who else is she going to turn to?  We’ll see who has the last laugh.  Lazy my butt.

###
Casa de Vietnam

Perhaps more than in any other region of the country, California may best represent the notion of living in a “melting pot”.  Living in Southern California, the idea of living in a region where cultures co-exist and even coalesce becomes almost an afterthought at times.  I have always been a believer that diversity enriches people.  When it comes to food, I can’t think of an easier way to experience the delights of a different culture.

I live in a city where you can try a different cuisine every night of the year and not run out of new adventures.  Portuguese one night, Persian the next.  How about Italian?  But do you want Northern Italian or Southern, or how about getting even more specific with Sicilian?  Twenty five years ago, going out for Chinese meant a choice of perhaps three restaurants, one of them was purely for Chop Suey and the other two were basic variations of Cantonese food.  Now, you have Szechuan, Hakka, Hong Kong seafood style, Vietnamese-Chinese, those specializing in hot pots, and many, many more.

But even the best intentions can sometimes go too far.  Or maybe I’m more conservative than I thought I was.

I’m referring to a relatively “new” cuisine called Fusion.  It may also sometimes be called Pan Asian or California cuisine.

My best guess as to the origins of this cuisine is that it started when a restauranteur was brainstorming new ideas for a restaurant, but was hard pressed to come up with a truly innovative idea that had not been done before.  At some point, he must have thought, “Sure, you can have Japanese food one night, Cajun food the next, and Italian the night after that, but what if you could sample seven or eight cuisines, all from the same entrée?”

All of a sudden, entrée ideas come out from nowhere, nouveau chefs sprout flamboyant new creations and the world is full of possibilities.  Excuse me, make that the balsamic vinegar infused-world is full of possibilities.

Here are a few entrees I pulled off from a local fusion restaurant I visited recently:

Ancho-sesame BBQ Free Range Chicken – Anchovy barbeque sauce, wild rice with currants, apples & walnuts topped off with a wild watermelon-jicama-lime salsa.

Shaved Grana Salad – Sardine filets over romaine lettuce with lime pepita dressing, sesame bread sticks, and red tortilla strips & roasted pepitas along with chile-fennel mahi, prawns or chicken.

Air-dried Roasted Duck – roasted air-dried Virginia wild duck served with a ginger-cherry sauce and a mixture of wild and basmati rice

Good Things Growing – Eggplant & roasted bell roulades, garam masala butternut squash ravioli & tempura yams with nut crusted tofu.

The last entrée stated that “A portion of the profit from this dish will go to benefit the Humane Society.”

I wonder why they reserve so much compassion for the animals yet spare no mercy when it comes their meals?

As for what I ordered that night, I looked long and hard for an entrée with ingredients that I could actually identify.  I settled for duck-filled dumplings in some sort of broth.  I like duck.  I like dumplings.  Who doesn’t like broth?

What I ended up getting was a dish covered with deep fried green onions and some other vegetation I couldn’t identify that covered the entire bowl like a marsh from the Florida everglades.  Once I hacked through the brush, I came upon the dumpling soup I ordered.  Although I was somewhat put off by the fact that there were only three dumplings in the broth (which comes out to be about four dollars a dumpling), after my first bite I realized that the scarcity of dumplings was more of a blessing in disguise.

Of course, tasting the dumpling becomes a challenge when it is drenched in the soup itself.

It was like drinking a bowl of boiled honey.  It was tooth achingly sweet.   I didn’t know whether to drink it or order ice cream with it.

It took hundreds, if not thousands of years for some cultures to establish the unique flavors and ingredients of their cuisine.  All of this tradition and custom is now vulnerable to the “Hey, let’s try this!” philosophy of Fusion cuisine.

I reject mango rumulade on my steak.  “Infusion” is a medical term, not a culinary one.  I don’t know what ingredient “garam” is, and I don’t want to find out.  Tofu should not be on a pizza.

This is culinary creativity run amuck.  Something must be done before someone starts making Portuguese sausage flavored gelato or fudge brownie clam chowder – with balsamic vinegar, of course.

###
You’re Going To Have Fun And That’s Final

I’ve always imagined that one of the greatest joys a father has is the moment their children first learn how to ride a bike.  It’s a rite of passage every kid experiences where they experience their first sense of freedom in their lives.

First, let me say that as a father, I always start out my parenting duties with the best of intentions.  If only the kids weren’t involved, everything would be fine.

The kids are three and a half now, and at that age I got it in my mind that it was time for that “Kodak” moment – like that scene out of “Kramer vs. Kramer” when Dustin Hoffman sets his son off on his first ride on a bike.  That’s me alright, Mr. Dad sharing a joyous moment with his two young sons.

The first thing that had to be done was to buy a bicycle, with training wheels of course.  The first thing you notice is that these new bikes aren’t like the ones you and I rode as kids.  You remember the ones with the banana seat and a pedal brake that didn’t stop the bike so much as skid the bike into an uncontrollable slide and didn’t stop until you hit a garbage can or the curb of a sidewalk?

Thankfully, there’s a much greater emphasis on safety nowadays, and while the bike I bought had the aforementioned pedal brake, it also had a front hand break, shock absorbers on both wheels and safety reflectors on both ends.  I believe the deluxe model came with an airbag and emergency roadside assistance as well.

But while the bike seemed built with safety in mind, the big difference with these bikes compared to the ones when I was young was that these come unassembled.  My first reaction was to ask myself whether I’d feel safe riding a bike that I assembled, knowing that I already have a 50% failure rate in assembling furniture bought from IKEA.  Well, I thought, the note on the box said that assembling the bike was a cinch, so, off I went.

You know that feeling when you are assembling something and after thoroughly reading the directions and studying the parts included with the bike, you come to the conclusion that it’s missing some parts that the directions don’t even mention and you have to jerry rig some leftover parts you have from other “projects” you tried to assemble in order to make it work?

After spending the better part of three nights trying to put the damn thing together and testing it a dozen different ways, I was done.  Of course, during this time, the kids saw what I was doing and I milked the situation for all it’s worth.

If you finish all your vegetables tonight, I’ll take you out on the new bike.
Take your hand out of Ethan’s mouth or you can forget about riding the new bike.
If you learn how to change your own diaper, maybe we can go out on the new bike.

The other new development in biking is all the protective gear children now have to wear.  Helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist pads.  Now, understand, I’m the first to appreciate all the focus on safety, but it does take some of the spontaneity out of  the moment.  You look through the camera expecting to snap a few memorable pictures of a happy child on his first bike ride and instead you see what appears to be a pint-sized Evel Kneivel set out to jump over 8 soda cans.  On top of that, three-year-old kids already have large heads disproportionate to the rest of their body.  Add a helmet to the equation and the slightest gust of wind makes them look like a dandelion floating in the air.

Anyways, the time had come.  After selecting the bike, putting it together, using is as a bribe for my children and outfitting the kids with the latest protective gear, it was time for the Kodak moment.  So we drove over to a nearby playground, camera in hand, and after a few minutes of orientation, we were off.

Tyler was the first.  I gave him a little push, and started snapping some pictures while running right behind him.  He didn’t get the concept until I started shouting, “Left foot! Right foot!” and for a minute, everything I expected came true.

Look Daddy, look at me!
Tyler, you’ve got it!
Daddy, I did it, I did it!
Good for you!  You’re a big boy now!
Yeah!

Of course, sixty seconds later, Tyler asked, “Can I go play on the swings now?”
What?!?  After all that?  You want to ditch the bike?  It took all of my will to keep from saying, “Get on that bike, and keep going until you enjoy it to my level of satisfaction.”

OK Tyler, have fun.

In the end, I thought, there will be other days, other minutes, and after all, we’d already shared a very special one.

###
September 11

It has been over six weeks since the terror attacks in New York and Washington D.C., and like many others, I have struggled to make any sense of it.

It has been described in nearly every way possible, in the greatest detail, yet I have not come across any combination of words that can accurately convey the impact of this human tragedy.

The enormity of this crime goes beyond normal reason and for me at least, impossible to fathom.  Yet the human response to it is as clear as can be.  It has brought us together.

Before September 11, we have all come across countless stories of people who have been affected by one tragedy or another so profoundly that they find a new calling to keep the same tragedy from happening to others.  You see it with victims of gun violence and gun control, the AIDS epidemic and those who start awareness programs.  A few are well known, but most others have lived lives of quiet courage and selflessness, and were moved to act to help the lives of others.

What September 11 seems to have done to most of us who did not know anyone in the towers, the pentagon or on those planes is to strike us collectively in a way in which we cannot ignore.  The terrorists did not know who were in those buildings, and did not set out to attack anyone of a specific faith, political persuasion, ethnic group or any other physical makeup.  Since the only physical target they set out to hit were buildings symbolizing economic, military and political strength, they were indiscriminate as far as their human targets were concerned.  Their only target was Everyman, which means they had their sights on everyone.

The tragedy has profoundly changed the way we need to lead our lives, which makes it personal. Much like those who have persevered in response to their own individual crisis, by one degree or another, we have all become activists.

We should take care when opening our mail.  We should be vigilant when we get on a plane.  We donate our money, our time and our blood to organizations that can help the victims and the families of the victims.  We raise our flags and our voices and wait patiently as our government seeks justice.  We acknowledge the bravery of policemen, fireman and our military as they go about doing their jobs in service to their country.

President Bush has urged all of us to get on with our lives  NEEDS WORK

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The Warlord’s Son
(Note: Just a short attempt – I haven’t gone anywhere with this one yet)
Look at this inconsiderate Fei Bing Gwei

He referred to his son Yun as a Fei Bing Gwei, or T.B. ghost, because of how skinny and pale the boy looked after being ill so often.

You look like you’re dying of tuberculosis.  How will any of our guests want to stay and visit with us when you look the way you do?  Get on your knees.

He didn’t want to.  But what choice did he have?  His father wanted to humiliate him, and there was nothing he could do to stop him.  He kneeled.

Apologize to our guests for practicing the piano too loudly.
I’m sorry for…
Louder, Fei Bing Gwei!
I’m sorry for playing the piano too loudly!

As he stood next to his son, he flicked the remnants of his clove cigarette towards his face, and told him to leave and to keep it quiet.

My father rarely speaks of his childhood.  I’m sure he finds it too painful.  Yet every traumatic moment he has experienced has somehow shaped him into becoming the loving and sympathetic father he has always been.  Perhaps in spite of his childhood, he wanted to prove to himself that it didn’t have to be that way.

My Grandfather, Chen Ji-Tang, who passed away long before my time, was known as the “King of the Southern Skies” in China.  He was a warlord of the highest order.  At one point, he controlled an air force in China that was second to none, even compared to Chiang Kai-Shek, China’s Nationalist leader.

###
Therefore, based on 20 years of reflection, the answer is…wait – what was I talking about?

For anyone who knows me, what I’m about to say is no big surprise, but I realize I need help and the first thing to do is to admit I have a problem.

Hi, my name is Wayne, and I have a lousy memory.

Whew, glad I could own up to that one.

To be more specific, it’s not that I’m forgetful of everything.  Just certain things.  For example, like many people, I almost never forget a face – the problem is I can never place a name to the face.  I will bump into someone on the street, immediately recognize them, but not know whether I met them when I was in school, at work, whether they are a friend of the family or whether they just came over to fix our air conditioning. On the other hand, if you asked me about the Lakers Championship seasons of the eighties, I can tell you the highest scorer, what seat Jack Nicholson was sitting in and the color of the underwear I was wearing that day.

I had once forgotten where I had parked my car – very common situation, you might say.  Well, not only did I forget where I parked, I spent nearly an hour pacing back and forth, looking throughout the parking lot until I realized that I was looking for the wrong car.  It’s not like we have all that many cars – we have three – a minivan, a truck, and a sedan.  When a couple of security guards offered to help, I said, “Yes, I am driving either a Ford Truck, Pontiac Minivan or an Infiniti J-30.”

“Mind putting your hands up against the wall, sir?.”

My wife used to share stories of her friends and colleagues with me but has pretty much given up because she knows she will have to repeat a long drawn out profile of that person or I will not know who that person is or how we know them.  She has “introduced” me so many times to some of her friends that some of them just hand me their resumes when they see me.

In college, I remember this one situation where all of a sudden, this rather attractive girl kept waving or saying hello whenever she saw me on campus.  For days on end, she would wave and say “Hi Wayne!” and instead of following up with this lovely person, the only thought in my mind was, “Who is this person?”  “She seems to think we know each other.”  “She seems to know all about me, but I don’t even know her name!”

For days, the only thing I could do was play dumb and go along with it.  Without knowing her name, I tried my best not to let on that I didn’t have a clue.

Hi Wayne!
Heyyyyyy Youuuuuuu!  (dragging out vowels suggests familiarity)
Did you do anything fun over the weekend?
Oh, youuuuu knowwwww, just whaaaatever.
OK, well, see you later.  Say hello to your parents!

She knows my parents?

After about two weeks of this, I couldn’t stand it anymore and I had to figure out what was going on.

As usual, on the way to class, I saw her walking towards me.  “That’s it.” I thought.  “No more games.”

Hi Wayne!
You know what?  I’m so embarrassed about this, but…who are you and have we met?
What?!?  You don’t know who I am?
Please…I’m sorry.  Just tell me.  I have to know.

With a very annoyed look on her face, she began to tell me.

Two weeks ago, we went out!
We did?
We saw a movie…
Really?
…after you took me to the fair!
Wait a min…
When you took me back home you whispered that you wanted to take me and…
Saaaaraaaah!

At least I think that’s what her name was.

###

If You Glaze It, They Will Come

I recently read an interesting story in our newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune, about a controversy in El Cajon regarding an arrangement their mayor made with the new Krispy Kreme in town.  It turns out that Mayor Mark Lewis had made an arrangement with the donut shop where they would supply El Cajon’s City Hall with three dozen donuts every Friday morning.

Apparently, a number of people have criticized the mayor for making such a deal with Krispy Kreme in that it suggests some sort of impropriety, a political tit for tat, or a kind of Quid Dough Quo (You didn’t really expect me to pass on that one, did you?).

As a responsible taxpayer, conscientious citizen and someone who lives only a couple of miles from El Cajon, the question that begs to be asked is:

THERE’S A NEW KRISPY KREME IN EL CAJON?!?

For those of you who have not been able to partake of the delicacy that is Krispy Kremes, there are those of us out there with a kind of cult-like devotion.  Only those who have taken a bite of these warm and doughy rings of heaven really know what I’m talking about.

Yes, there are those naysayers, including my wife, who have tried them and say they are overrated.  But tell me, do you know of anyone who has bought three dozen warm donuts from another so-called donut establishment only to scarf them down in one single evening?  That’s what a co-worker of mine did when the first Krispy Kremes opened in San Diego and before you ask, no, it wasn’t me, but only because I was afraid of going into a diabetic stupor.

For those of us who can truly appreciate Krispy Kremes, we can excuse Mayor Lewis for this indiscretion because we know it’s not really him making the decisions anymore – he’s succumbed to the glazed succor of fried dough. Bow to the power of the SDS (Sucrose Delivery System) for it will not be denied.

I have stood in line at Krispy Kremes located in Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego, & North Carolina, waiting at times over an hour to get my fill of these glazed globules.  At grand openings, you’ll see the local media set up cameras waiting to interview the people in line to see what all the hubbub is about.  There was one time when I noticed that a reporter stopped interviewing people who had already gotten their donuts and started interviewing people still waiting in line for them.

Why?  Because you can’t understand what anyone’s saying when they are in close proximity to a box of Krispy Kremes.

INTERVIEWER:  Excuse me, ma’am.  Could you tell us why there is so much anticipation for these donuts that you’re willing to wait in line for over an hour?

DONUT PATRON:  Becod Kribby Kroms ah so taskee – I lob thembbttthhhh. Sorrly, my mout if fubth.

If I was mayor and Krispy Kremes offered me a choice of a dozen donuts a week or a brand new Porsche in order to secure special favor, I’d of course choose the Porsche – unless I could split the dozen between bear claws and buttermilks.

###

Note:  This was printed in last year’s San Diego Union Tribune.

The Bruce I’d Like To See

We should all give Bruce Henderson a break.

I mean, here’s a guy who has filed lawsuit after lawsuit over the construction of the downtown ballpark, only to have them dismissed each and every time.  He’s lost every argument he’s brought to court.

He’s lost in the face of public opinion, and now I hear he’s being sued by the San Diego Padres.

The Padres.  Baseball.  America’s pastime.  It’s like being sued by a slice of apple pie.

With the ugly comments and scowls I imagine he sometimes gets just walking down the street, it almost makes me wish he’d win one of his lawsuits for a change.

I said – almost.

Even Henderson’s biggest critics have to admit that all the time, resources, and effort he’s put into lawsuits over both our stadium projects are pretty impressive.  The man obviously believes in what he’s doing.

But that being said, aren’t there a lot of other problems on this earth that Bruce can attend to?  And I’m not talking about unfathomable problems like the Middle East peace process, or world hunger.  There are a lot of manageable problems right here in San Diego that could use a man of Bruce’s persistence and can-do spirit.

For example:

Henderson should help support a law banning housing developers from building any more tract homes using stucco or Spanish-styled red tile roofs.  The ban needs to take affect before there’s a world wide shortage of stucco and roof tiles.  Besides – we have enough of ‘em.

Henderson should negotiate with the owners of Ralph’s Supermarkets to change their name.  I’m tired of my East Coast friends visiting and making jokes about how “Ralph’s” is the sound someone makes who’s eaten too much pizza, not a supermarket.

Henderson should push to have legislation passed that forbids city planners to create street names that have false advertising.  “Lake Arrowhead Road” near Jackson Drive is hundreds of miles from Lake Arrowhead.  The person who named “Snowdrop Street” in the Fairmount area needs to be put away.   Then there’s  “Beaver Lake Road” in San Carlos.  No lake.  No beavers.  Enough said.

If Bruce is interested in filing a lawsuit that’ll help him make a lot of friends fast – here’s two words: energy crisis.

Bruce vs. the power generators.  Now that’s a court fight I’d like to see.

###
Air Conditioning, Cruise Control, Leather Clad Interior…and a frozen yogurt machine

In an ever vigilant effort to monitor the latest breakthroughs in science and technology, I have decided to devote this column to the following topic:  The Microwave Oven – Boon to mankind or just a cool way to blow up marshmallows?

Perhaps that controversy is a bit stale.

OK, well how about the future of transportation, the fuel cell car. Word out of Washington D.C. is that the government, in partnership with major auto companies, will be ramping up efforts to produce and sell cars that run off a renewable resource like hydrogen and produce zero emissions to pollute the atmosphere.

I am the first to applaud advances in technology, especially when pollution is concerned.  A few years ago, I recall that there were a number of toll free numbers to report cars that were really spewing out noxious fumes.  I am proud to say that I was one of the most aggressive reporters of smoggy violators.  Unfortunately, with my less than perfect memory, my reports to the “Green Police” were usually less than helpful.

“Hello, pollution patrol?  I’d like to report  a gross violator.”  I said in my most authoritative voice.
“How may I help you?” asked the pollution inspector.
“Listen, there’s this car up ahead that’s just filling the air with black smoke.” I said, still with an authoritative voice but now also tinged with a tone of righteous indignation.
“Thank you for calling sir.  Could you give us some information we can use for tracking?” she said, matter of factly.
“Well, uh, it was a black car, or uh, maybe a really, really dark blue car.” I said, somewhat less indignantly or righteously.
“I see.  What kind of car was it?” she continued.
“Ahhh…well, it looked like a hatchback, but with four doors.  Wait a minute.  That can’t be right.  Maybe it was a small SUV.” I said.
“Um-hmm.  Well, can you provide the license plate number or make and model of the vehicle?” she said, with her now sounding a little indignant.
“Well, the licence plate had an ‘R’ on it, I’m ah, sure of that.” I said.  “How am I supposed to see all these things?  I could barely make out the color with all the black smoke coming out of it.  What’s with all the questions? What am I, a CAMERA?  Wait!  There he is again, getting off on Broadway!  Send in some backup!  There he is!  Get ‘em!  Get ‘em!  Get ‘em!”

At least I meant well.

Anyways, if we as a society are truly going to embrace the fuel cell car, than as a service to my fellow citizens, I feel obligated to raise a few valid concerns.  Here are a couple of them.

Assuming that all gas stations must be retrofitted with hydrogen tanks, I’d like to make sure that the cost of the retrofit isn’t passed along to consumers like me who will not stand paying more than $.89 for a 64 ounce vat of diet coke.

Another issue is instead of hydrogen, why not create an engine that runs off of something we can supply right from home so we can eliminate gas stations and save some expense?  At my house, with the number of diapers we go through in a week, a car that runs on diapers (you could call it a PUVor Pampers Utility Vehicle) could provide enough energy to drive me to L.A. and back with enough power leftover to heat up my pool for a week.

Or to make the car even more environmentally friendly, how about designing a car that runs off cigarette butts.  All those smokers on the road can fill up their tanks on the off ramp instead of tossing them off to the side of the ramp like they do now.

On the other hand, go ahead and have the car run on hydrogen.  We’ll all breathe easier.  But while they’re at it, why not have the car companies design a car that can keep me occupied during the ever longer commutes I make between home and work.  How about a car that automatically cooks up a batch of French fries when you’re stalled in traffic?  When you go through a drive through of a fast food place and they ask, “Would you like fries with that?”  You can say, “Nah, I’m good.  But I could go for some ketchup.”

Now how’s that for using the ole’ noggin?  It’s obvious  I didn’t just fall off the turnip PUV.

A Picture Perfect Picture A Pain to Perfect

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Ahh…the annual family photo.

The kid’s birthday is coming up and to celebrate that auspicious occasion, we reserve an afternoon to take a family photo to serve as a marker of another year gone by.  Just this once, maybe it won’t make my wife and I a nervous wreck.

It’s not that I don’t like our annual family photos.  Actually, I cherish each and every one of them.  Each one is a testament to another year of growth and discovery for our three kids.

It’s taking the picture that’s torture.

You see, my wife Maya and I are the proud parents of nine year old triplets, which, of course, means that I spend the bulk of my time each day either at parent/teacher meetings or buying a squadron’s worth of rations at Costco.

Anyways, our picture-taking day always starts out with the location.  Which picturesque setting would be the perfect background to display our happy, well adjusted family?  Maybe this year we’ll find the perfect spot with the skyline of San Diego behind us, or perhaps on a sandy beach in La Jolla.  There’s no shortage of scenic locales here in San Diego.  Finding a location is a snap.

This however, will be the last sane and simple decision we will make for the rest of the day.

We drive out to the location.  We walk out to the picture perfect spot, I set up a few chairs or a blanket to sit on, as well as the camera and a tripod.  Maya and I sit down, we have the kids sit around us, we wait until sunset to get the perfect lighting we want, and we ask our babysitter to start taking pictures.  She tries to get the kid’s attention to look at the camera and snap the picture.

As with every other year, the babysitter will fail.  It’s not the babysitter’s fault, mind you.  For whatever reason, if you set up a camera in front of us in an idyllic setting, the one place our kids will not look is at the camera.

Of course, maybe I’m just being too demanding.  If I was just going for a picture of my kids looking at their shoelaces, or having one of them flick the other’s ears, or maybe have one of them kick me in the shin, no problem – mission accomplished.

No, being the particular person that I am, I’d like them to smile for the camera for the picture perfect shot.  Which means, I have to start yelling.

Ethan, look at the camera!
Savannah, look at the camera!
Ethan & Savannah, look at the camera!
Tyler, stop looking at me.  Look at the camera!
We’ll go when I say we can go!
Put that down!
Take that grass out of your mouth!
Good Ethan!  Now smile!
No!  Smile and look at the camera!
Come back here!
Put your hands down!
Who’s kicking me?!?
Stop kicking and look at the camera!

And of course, there’s always the popular, “Look happy or so help me…”

Of the 170 plus shots that were taken, 87% of the photos have one or more of the children not looking at the camera, 10% have one or more of the children not in the picture for various juvenile reasons, and the remaining 3% are unusable because either Maya or myself are glaring at the children, most likely in the middle of browbeating our kids to look at the camera.

If you haven’t already noticed, that means that with all that effort, as with every other year we’ve tried this, we didn’t get a single solitary picture we could use.

Fortunately, we live in the age of digital cameras and photo-editing software, which means that a picture perfect family photo is just a few clicks of the mouse away.

Some purists may say that digitally lopping off heads from one picture and pasting them into others makes the finished photo a fabrication or a farce.  For the most part, I agree with them.  At least I have my limits.

I’m willing to digitally clip out a happy smiling face from each of the kids in various snapshots and cobble them all together for the perfect photographic illusion.  I’m perfectly happy to adjust the brightness or contrast of the picture if that improves the picture.  But when my wife looks at the picture as I’m manipulating it on the computer screen and asks me to “fix her hair”, that’s when I draw the line.

Once you go down that slippery slope, there’s no limit to the “improvements” you can make.  I might decide to drop a few pounds, or maybe I can “upgrade” the steel watch I’m wearing to a gold Rolex.  Maybe the beach background would look better with some perfectly placed coconut trees with a sign hanging from it that reads “Welcome to Waikiki.”

For the past nine years, we’ve managed to create, what I call, a “realistic illusion.”  In the end, our annual family photo is never completely real, but that’s really beside the point.

I love these perfect pictures not for the picture itself, but for what it represents.  It shows a perfectly happy family together, and there’s nothing fake about that.

Crouching Child, Bedeviled Parent

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Son I had a grueling day yesterday.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but I did.  Mentally, I was completely drained.  Physically, I was a wreck.

What one word best describes the experience?  Well, let’s see.

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the following is the definition for the word, “burnout”.

Burnout (pronounced, “bern’out’”): A state of emotional exhaustion caused by the stresses of one’s work or responsibilities.

A state of emotional exhaustion.  Umm, yes, that would be me.  That’s not quite concise enough, though.  I’ve come up with the perfect phrase to sum up how I feel as well as identify what I went through yesterday.

Disneyland Burnout (pronounced, “Augghh!!!”):  A state of emotional exhaustion caused by interminably long lines, exorbitantly priced food, and the inexplicable and sudden appearance of clothes wearing, human-sized rodents.

Now don’t get me wrong.  This is the same Disneyland I grew up cherishing as a kid.  It’s the same Disneyland I would have gladly traded my younger brother for to get a chance to ride on the latest ride.  And it’s the same Disneyland that I would beg my parents to take me to year after year after year.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem.  It’s one thing when you are the beggar.  It’s a whole other thing when you are the begg-ee.

For those of you who think I’m exaggerating, let me give you an idea of how our little family outing went.

Let’s start with the afore-mentioned pleading.  My eight-year-old son Tyler, who is usually a bright, unassuming delight to be with, was great fun to be with when we were actually on one of the rides itself.  Unfortunately, each ride usually lasts for about three minutes, which is then followed by about 40 minutes of us waiting in line for to go on another three-minute ride.  It’s during each of these little interludes that we were subjected to my son’s version of “closing the deal.”

His sales pitch usually goes something like this:

Can we go on Space Mountain one more time?  Please?  I always love going on Space Mountain.  Oh please!  PLEASE???  JUST…PLEASE?!?  I just want to go on Space Mountain one more time!  PLEASE?  PLEAASE???  PLEAAAAASE???

Bear in mind that it’s during the second round of this that he’s clasping his hands in a tight grip, shaking his hands urgently with his eyes closed and slightly bent at the knees.

Apparently, he seems to believe that this elevated level of groveling has a chance at succeeding.  Anyone watching this scene from a distance might think that this was a starving boy begging for sustenance.

Speaking of food, being thrown side to side on some of the faster rides can leave you hungry, tired, and thirsty.  No problem there, because we can take a quick break and as a convenience, food and refreshments are all around.  A nice, cold, bottled water and some tasty french fries would hit the spot.

How much?  Eleven dollars.

Eleven dollars?  Eleven dollars for some water and half a potato?  Ah well, at least the french fries weren’t in the shape of Mickey Mouse.

For some reason, anything in the park that even remotely resembles a circle, like a balloon, waffles, and especially hats, must be re-designed to include two round ears protruding from the top of it.  I think it’s mandated in one of Disney’s bylaws.

Why, even the week before, as I was in Asia traveling from the Hong Kong airport into the city via their express train, I saw, out the window, another train with a big Mickey Mouse emblem stamped on it’s side.  This reminded me that, of course, this was the train to take some happy tourists to Disney’s newest Disneyworld, this one located in Hong Kong.

And if you looked closely enough at the train, you could see some parents, many of them wearing “Mickey” hats, seated on the train.  Right below them, no doubt, would be their kids, hands clasped, in the Disney “crouch position.”