Hogging Up All The Attention For Chinese New Year

September 10, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I have a dilemma.

I’ve been asked to devote this column to the upcoming Chinese New Year, which for 2007 celebrates the Year of the Pig. The only problem is that I’m having a tough time with the subject matter.

It’s not that I can’t think of anything to say – on the contrary, I’ve got loads of material. My problem is that as a humor writer, I am having a hard time resisting the temptation to throw out pithy little pork-related zingers as I try to write something serious in commemoration of this year’s honored animal, the pig. I mean – I could really go hog-wild.

You see – it’s starting already.

I just find it especially hard to write about this year’s guest of honor whose closest connection to me were the sausage links I had for breakfast this morning.

Shoot. You see? I just can’t help myself.

I need to be able to put aside my own western notions of what a pig represents and try to understand the inner beauty of this esteemed animal. From what I’ve read, the pig of Chinese astrology is perhaps the most generous and kind of all the animals. Pigs are down to earth, caring of friends, and completely selfless.

According to Astrology.com, pigs “…are so magnanimous they can appear almost saintly. (They are) highly intelligent creatures, forever studying, playing and probing in their quest for greater knowledge. They can be misinterpreted as being lazy however, due to their love of napping, taking long bubble baths or dallying over an incredible spread of rich foods.”

Magnanimous and saintly? Quest for greater knowledge? Taking long bubble baths or dallying over an incredible spread of rich foods? Am I missing something? We are talking about a pig and not a Nobel Prize-winning, recently ordained pastor/super-model, right?

Oops, there I go again. I’m letting my western bias’ slip through. Well, at least I’ve managed to get through this much of the column without using the word “bacon” a single time.

Blast it.

This darned pig is obviously making it hard for me to reconcile between my Asian heritage and my American upbringing. Does it have to be a pig? Why not a more acceptable animal, like a swan? Why can’t we have the Year of the Swan? I can write my tail off waxing poetic about the elegance and beauty of a swan.

A swan won’t work? Fine, how about the Year of the Eagle, or the Year of the Giraffe? How about the Year of the Gazelle? I can do a moose, a beaver, a porcupine…no problem. I just don’t think I can do a pig justice.

Is this whole Chinese Zodiac animal system written in stone or is anyone taking suggestions?

While we’re at it, can someone please explain how we can have the year of the snake, monkey, and rooster but the CHINESE New Year celebration doesn’t have a Year of the Panda? How can that possibly be?

The Year of the Pig. I’m sorry – I’m just not up to the challenge. I’m stuck. I’m completely hog-tied.

I know – you saw that one coming.

Well, it’s only a year. Maybe next year’s animal will be a better fit for me. Let’s see here, 2008 is the year of the…rat.

Someone help me.

Two Waynes are Better than One

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I’d like to apologize to my parents.

I have done my best to be a good son. I went to college, and even went on to get a masters degree, despite the fact that I went through it reluctantly. At the time, I think I made a very good case for not going to college.

Let’s see – my reasons were:

1. I’m not going to learn anything useful in college that I don’t already know now. Why do I need to learn calculus?
2. I’m going to be the world’s number one tennis player. What do I need college for?
3. I’m already making plenty of money being the “Dough Specialist” at Round Table Pizza.

After listening to my thoughtful reasoning and very sound logic, I believe my mom’s response was, “I don’t want to hear it. You’re going.”

Now that some time has passed, I can see my parents were right (although I still have never been in a situation where calculus came in handy). In every respect, I owe my parents for everything I have in my life.

But right now, I owe them an apology. Let me explain.

I don’t like my name. “Wayne Chan” – two one word syllables. It’s too short. It sounds like a doorbell chime.

Obviously, there’s not that much that my parents could do with my last name. But “Wayne”? Is that the best they could come up with? Why not something more macho like “Bronson”? With a name like that, I’d go around introducing myself to strangers just so I could say my own name.

Yes, the name’s Chan – Bronson Chan. Please, just call me Bronson.

You don’t like “Bronson”? That’s fine, there are a lot of other names that I would be perfectly happy with. How about “Daniel”? I’d be fine being Daniel Chan, despite the fact that you can’t shake a stick without hitting another Chinese guy named “Daniel”. Why not? It’s a nice name.

But “Wayne”? Where did that name come from? Actually, I know the answer to that question. I once looked up the etymology for my first name. According to my research, the name “Wayne” was an old English occupational surname that meant, “Wagon maker.”

I doubt that my parents were actually thinking about 18th century modes of transportation when they were trying to name their son, but maybe I’m just not giving them their due credit.

All of this leads to the real reason I’ve written this column. Several weeks ago I came upon a young man who pens a number of comic strips, many of them drawn from the perspective of an Asian American. I think his work is truly terrific.

We got to talk and we thought it would be a perfect match if we worked together, combining my columns and his strips. We work in different mediums – I write columns, and he draws comic strips, but we do share a commonality in our perspectives – as Asian Americans who find humor in our daily lives.

So, without further ado, let me introduce (and I am not making this up)…Wayne Chan.

Wayne is based in the Bay Area, and yes, the strip you see next to this column is by him. We’d like to name our collaboration – column & comic strip, “The Waynes of the World.” We hope you enjoy it.

By the way, Wayne, if you’re reading this – I guess I owe your parents an apology too.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Asians

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

After reading the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” by Stephen Covey, it had such a profound impact on me that it inspired me to come up with my own list, this one specific for Asian Americans.

It is my sincere hope that the list I’ve come up with will provide some insight into the intricate workings of Asian socio-economic dynamics, some helpful hints on how to improve your own productivity, and perhaps most importantly, allow me to sell twelve kajillion books.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me first say that I am an Asian American, who is writing from a particular perspective.  Therefore, the opinions that I am about to express may not necessarily represent the opinions of this publication.  Having said that, if you do not believe in everything I am about to say, then your mama wears army boots and you are a complete chowderhead.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, and without further ado, let me present the definitive list entitled, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Asians.”

Habit Number One:  Rice – A staple as well as an adhesive
While rice is a staple crop like potatoes and wheat, it is not widely known outside of the Asian culture that rice also serves as a be all, end all of adhesives.  Go into any typical Asian home, and it is quite likely that you will not see any tape, glue, or paper clips.  As most Asian kids learned at a young age, any time you asked your parents for some tape or glue for a project, they would eventually direct you to the refrigerator and a bowl of leftover rice.  Take a few grains of day old rice, mash them together between your fingers, and Voila!  Instant glue.

I recently helped my son build a treehouse using nothing more than some lumber, paint, and five bowls of leftover chicken fried rice.

Habit Number Two:  Banners – Not necessarily a sign of the times
The next time you visit a Chinese, Vietnamese or other Asian restaurant, be sure to check out the restaurant sign out in front.  More likely than not, you will see a “Grand Opening” banner hanging not too far from it.  Asians realize that it makes no sense to invest hundreds of dollars on a “Grand Opening” sign only to use it for the first few weeks of a brand new restaurant.  No, if it was a good idea to have the sign up for a few weeks, then it makes even more sense to have the signs up for the long haul.

When I was a kid growing up, I thought the name of my favorite Chinese restaurant was called “Beijing Gardens Grand Opening.”  It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to get suspicious when the same restaurant changed its name to “Beijing Gardens Grand Opening Under New Management.”

Habit Number Three:  Never judge a seat by its cover

When invited over for dinner in an Asian household, you may notice upon sitting at the formal dining table that all the chairs have the thick, transparent plastic sheet covering the seat of the chair that came with the furniture when you bought it.  You may also wonder whether your host may have inadvertently forgotten to remove the cover after they got the dining set home.

This is a common misperception by people who have not closely studied habit number three of the seven habits.

While most people assume the see through plastic covering is used only to protect the seat fabric while the furniture is in route from the furniture store to your home, it is a little known fact that this plastic material is an industrial grade product, manufactured to withstand liquid spills, sharp utensils, hot pans, and low grade nuclear explosions.

My aunt once proudly explained that her dining room seat covers were custom made using intricately hand woven silk from a rare silk worm that only lives in one nearly inaccessible area of China.  She described the design of the seat covers in great detail, which she had to do by memory since you couldn’t see anything through the faded, now yellow-colored plastic covering the seat.

But take my word for it – if anyone could see under the plastic I’m sure those seat covers would have been beautiful…and pristine.

Habit Number Four:  Tea’d off yet squeaky clean
Habit Number Four is a daily ritual performed routinely on the lives of young Asian children throughout the world by their mothers.  Asian mothers are convinced that tea is a magic elixir that will not only quench thirst, but is also a natural disinfectant that can clean anything known to man.

It’s the same image the world over – an Asian mom holding a small towel in one hand and a pot of tea in another.  Next thing you know, the tea is poured out onto the towel, and whatever the object – tabletop, chopsticks, 57 Chevy, is now clean.

Unfortunately, the object of my mom’s disinfecting skills was often me and my brother.  During the course of any meal you could predict that my mom would eventually pour hot tea onto a napkin and wipe our faces with it.  While our faces would certainly end up clean, I’m not sure whether the tea was really effective or whether applying any liquid the temperature of scalding lava to a child’s face would be a good disinfectant since it’s likely to kill germs as well as burn off a few layers of the kid’s epidermis.

I hope these habits will have a positive impact in your life.  And for those of you who have noticed that I only got through four of the seven habits, hopefully you’ll be able to find them in my upcoming book. <Note:  I will write the rest for the book!

How else am I going to sell twelve kajillion copies?

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.

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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

###
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.

Giving A Whole New Meaning To Monkey Business

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I’m sure many of you, like me, were glued to the TV last week, wowed by the spectacle of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics.  The dancers, the special effects, the long procession of athletes walking in to the stadium – I haven’t seen a line that long since I stood in line waiting to buy the new iPhone.

Yet, in the days that followed, despite the dominance of swimmer Michael Phelps or the Chinese team’s success in gymnastics, the brilliance of the occasion didn’t hold my attention as much as a little known company doing business in China that gets very little attention but is actually no less awe-inspiring.

I’m referring, of course, to the tea-picking monkeys of Sichuan.

I learned about the existence of this monkey business during a random meeting a few weeks back.  During the meeting, as we were listening to the latest month’s sales projections, I glanced over at one of the canisters of tea sitting on the conference table.  There, sitting next to the other non-descript teas, was a canister of tea called, “The Monkey Picked Ti Kuan Yin”.

In the description, it read:

The legend of tea-plucking monkeys comes from the inaccessibility of mountain grown teas.  Nurtured by clouds and mist, Ti Kuan Yin has an intense aroma and a complex, long-lasting finish.

In that moment, all my thoughts about the meeting disappeared and at once I became intrigued at the idea that in my tea cup, I was drinking tea made from tea leaves plucked by a monkey in a forest thousands of miles away.

A few thoughts:  1) How did the tea farmer initially decide that they were going to use animals to help them pluck tea leaves and how did they end up with a monkey?  I mean, at some point someone came to the conclusion, “OK, no more ladders.  No more long poles with knives on the end.  From here on in, we’re using animals.  Now where can we find a monkey?”

Actually, my guess is that they had to work their way up to a monkey.  I mean, why go through the cost and effort of acquiring a monkey when, say, a squirrel can climb a tree just as well as a monkey and is already climbing your tea trees?

In an attempt to confirm my hypothesis, I’m planning to employ the local squirrels in my backyard for a little manual labor.  While I have no tealeaf plants for them to pick, I figure that they are perfectly suited to clean out the gutters of my house.  I will report on my progress with this at a later date.

Now back to the monkeys.

At some point, the tea farmer decides to use monkeys to pick tea leaves.  So, my next question is, how do you train a monkey to pluck tea leaves?  Now don’t get me wrong, I know that monkeys are capable of doing a lot of things – carnival tricks, sign language, etc., but picking tea leaves?

I imagine the training sessions involve a lot of frustration and patience for the tea farmer.

Bungo!  Get over here!  Drop that banana and get over here now!  How many times do I have to tell you?  I only want tea leaves!  Nothing else!  What did you bring me this time?  A shoe!  One shoe!  You’ve been monkeying around all day!  Today alone you’ve brought me three tea leaves, a rock, four sticks, a dead mouse and this shoe.  Bungo!  Stop scratching yourself and pay attention!  You never see Bingo, Bango or Devin making these kind of mistakes.  Now you shape up or no more bananas and you can go back into the jungle to eat bananas whenever you want! Get back to work you cotton-pickin’, tea-leaf pickin’ monkey!

The funny thing is that this company is actively promoting their tea and how monkeys picked the tea leaves.  I wonder how it would go over here if the next time you pick a bottle of ketchup and in bold print it read, “The finest ketchup made from tomatoes picked by our own band of monkeys!”

Last thought:  now that the Chinese have proven themselves in gymnastics while still having monkeys climbing tea leaves from trees humans can’t climb, wouldn’t this be the perfect time for the ultimate face off?

Now that’s a sporting event I’d pay to go see.

A Sweltering Problem Begs for a Cool Solution

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I found out recently that I will be traveling to China sometime in August.

Let the sweating begin.

How hot is it, you ask?

It’s a brutally humid, suffocating heat.  I suppose it’s good that it’s humid because if it were a dry heat, visitors like me might spontaneously burst into flames.

It’s so hot Chinese tourists spend their summers on African safaris just so they can “beat the heat.”  It’s so hot you can put a bowl of ice outside and watch how the ice just dissipates into the air, bypassing the whole “ice melting” stage.

It’s that kind of hot.  At least it is for me.

I am quite sure that the last time I traveled to China in the summer, I made a vow that I would never go back to China in the summer.  Yet, here I am again, going to China in the summer.  I think there’s a conspiracy going on between the people issuing Visas and my wife who would like to see me lose some weight.

Of course, China and the rest of Asia have long since discovered air conditioning.  It’s in all modern buildings, from hotels, restaurants and businesses far and wide.  It’s just not in any of the places I go when I’m on business.

I’ve tried everything.  I started out bringing a hotel towel with me wherever I went.  It didn’t really keep me cool but at least I could keep myself from looking like I just came out of a “Singing in the Rain” dance rehearsal.

I once brought a battery-powered fan but that didn’t do the trick.  I then put my faith in the promise of high technology and bought a battery powered, personal cooling doodad that wraps around your neck and is supposed to keep you cool.  Of course, a side effect from wearing this contraption was that it made me look like a complete idiot, but what’s a little embarrassment when it comes to my personal comfort?

Unfortunately, it didn’t work, so the only thing I accomplished was to give the impression that the latest fad in the west was for grown men to wear shiny new dog collars.

So, in my latest bout of desperation, I have searched far and wide and I believe I’ve finally come up with the perfect solution to keep me from sweltering in another hot summer in China.

I’ve asked my brother to go instead of me.

Unfortunately, I’m just kidding.  I’m still going, but I do think I may really have solved the problem.
Last week, while surfing on the web, I came across a web site devoted to products to help soothe sore muscles and other body aches.  One of the products was an ice pack that gets ice cold without the use of a freezer or refrigerator.  By shaking the bag, the pack goes through some kind of chemical reaction and instantly becomes ice cold for about an hour.

Instant cold?  Someone must be smiling down on me.

Of course, reading the fine print on the back of the ice pack has a way of yanking me back to reality.  In very tiny print, it reads:

Caution. Ice pack capable of extreme cold.  Prolonged exposure can cause redness, swelling, frostbite, possible hypothermia, loss of circulation, and other health issues related to extreme cold.

Of course, let’s not forget the added effect of me looking like a complete idiot.  But what’s a little embarrassment, some swelling, a touch of hypothermia, and a loss of feeling on my neck when it comes to my own personal, umm…

Where the heck did I put that battery-powered fan?

Pride

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

It seems to me that the key to success for any endeavor boils down to one common trait – pride.  Parents learn that they should instill a sense of pride in their children for their accomplishments in order to motivate them for the future.  An artist’s greatest sense of pride comes at the point where they can stand back and bask in the glow of their creation.  Pride is what makes each of us aspire to a higher purpose, whether it’s going on to college, climbing Mt. Everest, or running for governor after being a professional body builder and the world’s highest paid action star.

Yet, pride can come in several forms.  Pride for a genuine achievement is a good thing.  Pride for pride’s sake – not so good.  You can see the two faces of pride every week on the TV’s American Idol.  For every talent like 1st season winner Kelly Clarkson who has earned the right to be proud of her achievement, thousands of other contestants are motivated by their own false sense of pride at their own perceived talents – and often humiliated for their attempt.  Unfortunately for the Asian American community, William Hung’s recent turn in the limelight is an extreme example of this – let’s let it go at that.

Sometimes the difference between genuine and false pride is just a matter of going too far.  For example, a genuine sense of pride can be seen from a father who shows off to his kids a birdhouse he built out of an old wooden crate and a broom handle he found in the garage.  A false sense of pride comes when the father takes pictures of the same birdhouse and submits them to Architectural Digest for review.

I admit that I have been a victim of my own false sense of pride.

Some time ago I needed to find a dentist to fix a few chipped teeth.  A good friend recommended his dentist, and I set up an appointment for the following week.

As I checked in, it became apparent to me that everyone in the office – the receptionist, the dentists, even the patients, were all Chinese.  Furthermore, as I was led to the dentist’s chair, the assistant spoke to me in Chinese, and even handed me some dental literature – again, all in Chinese.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that my Chinese is good enough to exchange pleasantries, order lunch, ask where the bathroom is, or get directions to the nearest airport.  Ask me my opinion on say, nuclear proliferation, and my eyes start to glaze over.

As the dentist starts asking me what I need and starts discussing what he will do, any practical person in my position would either a) Tell the dentist that your Chinese isn’t that good and ask them to speak English or b) Lunge for the nearest exit as quickly as possible.

However, seeing as how my false sense of pride was in total control (after all, my friend, even though he was from China, used this dentist, therefore, so could I), I proceed to nod repeatedly and respond by saying “Hao” (“Yes” in Chinese) no matter what the dentist asks me.  I kept nodding even though what I was hearing sounded like, “First I’m going to yadda yadda yadda, followed by yadda, but yadda yadda hurt much.”

In the end, the dentist did manage to fix my chipped teeth by capping them.  Unfortunately, I had inadvertently asked that one cap be done in gold, the other in porcelain, and the third in something silver-colored.  But hey, I’m still proud of myself.

I’m proud that on clear days, my teeth can tune into some pretty cool radio stations.

A Bouncing Ball and a Bruised Ego

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

There comes a time when you look back on your life and recall the moments when you truly accomplished something special.  For some, it might be a physical act, like climbing Mt. Everest or finishing a marathon.  For others, it could be a creative  act, like writing a best selling novel, or inventing a better mousetrap.

When I look back,  I am proud of being a good father and husband.  But, the more I contemplate my accomplishments, the more I keep going back to the one success that towers over the rest.

I finally beat my mother in law in a game of ping pong.

Immature, you say?  Insignificant, you proclaim?  Let me explain.

My mother in law was born and raised in Taiwan.  Every day during lunch, as well as three nights a week, she gets together with friends to play ping pong.  She is consistently the league champion.

As for me, I get as competitive as you can possibly imagine.  I will risk serious bodily injury and humiliation in order to win a point.

When she arrived in San Diego, my first instinct was to play nice.  After all, I was the future son-in-law,  and the reason that her daughter was moving from Taiwan for good.  Fairly early on, she suggested we play ping pong.  Sounded innocent enough, and while I don’t play that much, I figured heck, I’ll even let her win.

The first match set the tone.  Not only was she beating me, she was blowing me away, and to make things worse, I could tell that she was taunting me in Chinese as well.

“I’m sure you can beat me”, she said.
“Should I hit it softer?”

For the next few days, I knew my mission in life.  No need for sleep or food. I became one with the ping pong paddle.

We played over 30 matches.  I never won, but at least I heard some new taunts.

“Maybe you should try playing left handed…or maybe I should.”
“Where are my glasses?  I can’t believe I’m winning without my glasses.”

The next day, she was gone, back to Taiwan.  My official ping pong record was zero wins, 35 losses. With each day that passed, I muddled through with no purpose in life.  A broken shell of a man.

Fortunately for me, a few months passed and she called to say she would be visiting us again.  The clouds lifted.  Time for a rematch.

She arrived, and after exchanging pleasantries, we got down to business.  The first ten games were a replay of the last trip.

But then came the 11th game. I could do no wrong.  I have never played so well, before or since.  Final score: 21-18.  Game over.  My new record: one win, 45 losses.

She wanted to keep playing, but there would be no rematch.  I would finish my career with a win.

Does it make any difference that she had jet lag from her 12 hour flight here, or that I’m twice her size, 20 years younger or that she still has a 44 game advantage over me?

Nah.  A win is a win in my book.

The Year of the Adorable Rodent

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been asked to write a column celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year.  As with other columns celebrating the New Year, I thought a festive poem might be in order.  Unfortunately, I’m having some problems with it.

My main concern (and I could see it coming), is that I’m having a hard time waxing poetic about the animal we are celebrating this year.

You see, this year is the year of the rat.

To give the rat it’s due, I did some research and the rat is highly regarded in its place in the Chinese Zodiac.  The rat is active, pleasant, and quick to see opportunities.  They are sociable, family minded…and able to withstand global thermonuclear explosions.

OK, I threw that last part in, and therein lies my problem.  Wait, instead of explaining it, why don’t I just show you the poem.  I call it, “Ode to Rat”.

Ode to Rat, by Wayne Chan

Oh, blessed rat, so misunderstood,
One thing to avoid, I know I would
You scuttle away, scampering here and there,
With your long bare tail, and scrubby gray hair

You’re honored this year, and while that might seem screwy,
You weren’t half bad in the film “Ratatouille”.
Perhaps there’s more to you, than pestilence and fleas,
After all, you do have a penchant for a nice fine cheese.

They say at a party, you’re the center of attention,
How you end up being invited, is beyond comprehension.
They say that beauty is only skin deep,
Yet from what I’ve seen, that’s a pretty big leap.

So here we are, in the year of the Rat.
And from what I’ve been told, you really are all that.
I’ll give you your props, but I don’t want to be vague,
This may be your year, just don’t give us the plague.

This is not exactly a poem I’d likely submit to the Readers Digest, if you know what I mean.

I’m not sure, but it might be the first time that anyone has ever incorporated the words “pestilence” and “plague” in a poem.

Seriously though, as with every New Year, it’s a time to appreciate what you have in your life and to look forward to the blessings of a new year.  Happy New Year to you and your family, and may a year of health and happiness be right around the corner.

Chan – From Noodles to Burgers & Back

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I am witnessing a metamorphosis.

Like millions of other Chinese Americans, I grew up in a family where my parents were born and raised in China.  They moved to the United States to find a better life and it was also where they met, fell in love, got married, and ultimately had me – their most “cherished and prized progeny”.

OK, maybe I’ve never heard them use the term “cherished and prized progeny”, but I digress.  Let me get back to my point.

The point is, both my parents completely embraced the ideal that America was the grand social experiment, the place where the diversity of America is part of our national identity.  It is the place where we would be both Chinese and American.

Despite having to learn English and the intricacies of Western culture, both my parents excelled in what they set out to do.  My mother started out as a nurse before becoming the head of a library in a major University.  Likewise, my father started out as a professor of Electrical Engineering at a University before starting several successful businesses.

Without forgetting their culture or values, they embraced Western culture.  We rooted for our favorite football team every Sunday.  We bought a station wagon with faux wood paneling on the side of it and went for rides on Saturday afternoons with no particular destination.  On weekends, Dad would roast a whole side of beef just to feed the four of us.

If America ever had a melting pot, our family was swimming in the deep end.

Nowadays, my Mom is retired and my Dad is semi-retired.  Yet, it has come as somewhat of a surprise to see the transformation I’ve observed over at my parent’s house over the last couple of years.

It started out slowly, when I noticed that the coffee table in the family room started getting stacked with piles of Chinese newspapers.  Then I started noticing that nearly every evening that I dropped by, one or both of them were watching Chinese soap operas.  The next thing you know, Mom and Dad cancelled their opera tickets and have become aficionados of Lang Lang, the Chinese pianist who plays mainly Chinese music.

This last week, despite the fact that Mom knows virtually nothing about computers or networking, she managed to install an internet service that connects to their TV and allows them to get Chinese programming direct from China and Taiwan.

What is going on here?  It’s as if the melting pot is no longer stirring and all the ingredients have decided to “go their own way”.  If America’s acculturation really is a grand experiment, apparently my parents have decided to “revert to their original state”.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m as proud as anyone of my Chinese heritage, and I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to understand where I came from and the history behind it.  But, they brought me up in this country (Refer to “Cherished and prized progeny” above) and raised me to value both sides of my cultural identity.  I don’t like seeing either side getting short shrift.

For a little while, I thought that I might need to alter my behavior to keep things in balance.  Perhaps I could spend a little time savoring various aspects of Americana as the “yin” to the “yang” of my parent’s recent “re-calibration” to their roots.

I would do this by going on a road trip, driving a Chevy pickup, visiting various baseball stadiums on my way to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of fame while only listening to CD’s of Woody Guthrie and stopping to eat only at roadside diners that served hamburgers, chocolate malts and apple pie.

In the end, I decided not to make the trip.  First of all, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who will rent you a Bassett hound for a road trip, and secondly (and most importantly), I realized that even with all the Chinese videos and newspapers they have accrued, Mom and Dad remain quintessentially Chinese-American.

How do I know this?  Easy.

Look at where they decided to live their lives.

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