One Man’s Medicine is the Same Man’s Embarassment

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I just came back from a business trip in Beijing and all I got was a lousy T-shirt.

Actually, I didn’t bring back any T-shirts.  Instead, what I came back with was a sense of amazement.

Sky-high skyscrapers.  Locals dressed in the latest couture.  Mercedes Benz cars parked next to trendy microbreweries.

Even factory workers would drink Starbucks during their coffee breaks.

OK, a little creative license there, but you see where I’m going with this.

This wasn’t the Beijing that I remembered.  The last time I visited Beijing, it was 1980.  Beijing was so much different.  But then again, so was I.

In the summer of 1980, I was 16 years old and I joined a group of students from all over the country to attend a Chinese language program at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

My parents thought this trip would be a good opportunity for me to learn about my roots.  They thought this trip would give me a chance to expand my Chinese language skills.  They thought I would come back with a greater appreciation of my heritage and the richness of my culture.

I thought it would be a good chance to meet girls.  After all, I and every other student who attended the program were fully aware that this program was informally known as “The Love Boat.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t really hook up with any girls during the trip.  But as a consolation, I did manage to pick up a severe case of food poisoning.

I shared a dorm room with two of my cousins.  Seeing as how they were both younger than me and with even less experience with the fairer sex, this was not the best environment I could have hoped for.  The room had a concrete floor, and each bed was covered completely with mosquito netting.  I quickly discovered that the mosquitoes were in abundance, and unless you wanted to unwillingly donate a pint of blood each night via a hundred mosquito bites, you stayed under the netting.

However, this being the summer, it was also hot and muggy, with nary an air conditioner in sight.  Coupled with the fact that the mosquito netting effectively blocked out any breeze from the windows, you soon came to realize that you had inadvertently duplicated the conditions of a Thanksgiving turkey basting in the oven.

Under these sweltering conditions, a cool, tall glass of water would have really hit the spot.  Unfortunately, the best we could do was a bracing cup of hot tea, or boiled hot water kept in a large thermos, which contained so much excess grit and minerals that you felt like you were drinking a cup of watery sand.

Towards the end of my journey in China, I came down with a severe case of food poisoning.  High temperature, extreme queasiness, a genuine feeling of hopelessness.  No, that’s not what the food poisoning did to me, that’s how I felt as a number of friends helped me make my way to the University’s medical clinic and looked inside.

I felt like I was on the set of M*A*S*H.

Still, how bad could it be?  I immediately felt more at ease when the doctor told me I just needed some penicillin.  However, I soon realized that what might be good for my health might not be so good for my image.

In front of all my friends, including a few girls I was trying to impress, I nonchalantly asked the doctor where I could pick up the penicillin pills.

The doctor replied, “We don’t have penicillin pills.”

Figuring he meant a penicillin shot, I bravely rolled up my sleeve and said, “OK, no problem.  I have had lots of shots before.”

The doctor, seeming a little perplexed, looked at me and quietly said, “Umm…we don’t give you the shot in your arm.”

After a few moments, I quickly grasped the situation and asked,  “You don’t mean to tell me you’re going to give me a shot in my…”

When it comes right down to it, buying flowers, writing a romantic poem, seeing a romantic movie…there are a lot of things a young man can do to win a young woman’s heart.  Bending over and pulling your pants down in front of your friends for a penicillin shot is not one of them.

Then again, the experience certainly wasn’t a complete loss.  I did manage to learn the Chinese words to ask, “Could somebody please cover me up with a blanket?”

A Massage to Die For

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been thinking about getting a new chair for my desk.  I’m sitting here at my desk – writing – and thinking – I need a new chair for my desk.  Nothing really wrong with the one I have, but after visiting a friend a while ago and seeing his state of the art desk chair with all it’s mesh supports and hydraulic lifts, it’s time for a new chair.  Until now, I never knew that sitting in a chair without pneumatic back supports was akin to being stretched out over hot coals.  How did I ever get through the day?

I’m not sure when it was that I became so attentive to my sitting needs.  In fact, as I look around me, I never realized how much I’ve invested in accoutrements that provide the ultimate in comforts.  My desk is right next to a window for fresh air, but if it ever gets stuffy, I have a fan.  In fact, my office has two fans.  Whenever it gets truly warm, I have a small air conditioning unit near my desk.   On top of that, the office already has central heat and air conditioning, which makes you wonder why I really needed two fans and a separate air conditioner to begin with.

When did I first place an emphasis on having a cushy existence?   Why do I only buy shoes without laces now so that I never have to go through the dreaded experience of tying shoe laces?  Did I really need to buy a remote control that helps you find lost remote controls?

I suppose part of me says that I’ve worked hard in my life and I’ve earned a few creature comforts.  Now that I’ve hit my middle age, I’ve reached a time in my life where I’m no longer concerned about other people’s perceptions.  I no longer worry about whether or not I’m a “man’s man” and whether I can take a little heat.

That wasn’t always the case, though.  When I was a teen, I had something to prove.  I was a 16 year old with a mission.

I remember a trip I took to Taiwan years ago, where I met up with my cousin who was a year younger than me and was studying Chinese there over the summer.   One day, we met up with my uncle who was a very successful businessman in Taipei.  He was what we hoped to be someday – successful, respected, and in the prime of his life.  He decided to take us out for a night on the town.

After dinner, my uncle decided he would take us to a private club to have a few drinks (martini for him, soda for us) and to treat us to a professional massage.  For a couple of teenage boys, this was the life we thought we wanted, and we were determined to enjoy it.  Dinner, private club, a massage – all we needed was a couple of cigars, a chauffeur named “Gibson” and a toy dog to sit on our lap and our lives would be set.

As we both laid face down on two adjoining tables, two masseuses came in, and started working their magic on two teenage backs that clearly didn’t deserve or need a massage.  As they continued, the pressure from their hands became more and more pronounced to the point of being uncomfortable.  Still, a little discomfort in the lap of luxury was nothing to complain about, and I certainly wasn’t about to show any displeasure in front of my cousin, who seemed to be enjoying himself.

Our masseuses asked us if we were comfortable and if we wanted more pressure.  My cousin immediately agreed, and not wanting to be shown up, I nodded for them to continue.

Our masseuses responded by climbing onto the massage table to walk on our backs.  You might not think that a 110 pound masseuse walking on your back would be all that bad, but you would be wrong.  Especially when your masseuse seems to be deliberately walking on your back on her heels.

By now, I was sweating profusely and having some trouble breathing.  I glanced over at my cousin to detect any sense of discomfort from him.  Even though his masseuse seemed a few pounds heavier than mine, he wasn’t complaining, although our conversation seemed a bit labored.

“How are you feeeelinguhh..?” I asked, with the words being squeezed out of my body.
“Fineuhh…”, he said.
“Can you take a little more pressure?” our masseuses asked.
“Absoluooootelyehhh” my cousin said.
“Go forrrittttuhh…” I responded, not wanting to let on that that I suspected one of my lungs had already collapsed.

In order to put more pressure into the massage, our masseuses kept walking on our backs but now, raised their arms, and pressed their hands against the ceiling to exert more force on our backs.

I felt my spleen moving from one side to another.  I heard cracking sounds with each step but I wasn’t sure if it was coming from the table or me.  I wanted to scream but I couldn’t draw a breath to make a sound.  I wondered whether the masseuses were trained in CPR and I started thinking about how much I missed my mommy.

The massage ended thankfully, with both of us relatively intact.  Five minutes later, my cousin said, “Wow, to tell you the truth, I was dying but I didn’t want to say anything in front of you.”

So you see, my new chair really does need pneumatic back supports.

The Governor…

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

With all the turbulence and activity in California reaching a fever pitch in recent weeks, I have decided that as a Californian, I must do whatever I can to give back to this great state that has given me so much.  In my own small way, I will contribute to this cause by assuming a role I was born to play and am ready to assume.

In case you’re still in the dark as to what my decision is, let me be perfectly clear.  I hereby announce my plan to be the next movie blockbuster action/adventure hero.

Governor?  No, no, no, no no.  There are enough people running for that already.  Still, the California’s recall election did give me the idea for this sudden career change.

After all, for the time being, Arnold is taking a leave of absence from his action/adventure hero duties, and Sylvester, Bruce, and Clint are getting a bit long in the tooth for some of the action stunts that are part of this genre.  My time has come.

Some of you may ask, “Wayne, I just don’t see you as an action/adventure hero and besides, aren’t there already several Asian actors who are doing quite well?”

You mean like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat?  That’s a fair question, but I believe I can fill a special niche that these fine actors cannot.  Let me try and describe my action/adventure hero persona.

First off, I intend to be the first Asian action/adventure star with no martial art skills whatsoever.  When a bad guy tries to hit me, they’ll succeed.  However, like in Arnold and Sylvester’s movies, when it looks like I’m down for the count with the fate of the world on my shoulders, I will somehow manage to head butt them which will leave my opponent completely stunned but apparently causes me no discomfort whatsoever.

If that doesn’t work and my adversary has me over a barrel, somehow, someway I will conveniently find something like a crow bar within arms reach that I can use to break free or possibly some kind of mechanical lever that when pulled will suck my enemy into some ridiculously dangerous mechanical contraption.

I have a cousin who has managed to land a few bit parts in movies and the types of roles he’s played might serve as a guideline of what I am trying to avoid.  He has played the son of an Asian crime lord who is snuffed out before the end of the opening credits.  He has played a clumsy Chinese waiter who is snuffed out before the end of the opening credits.  Then of course there was what would have been his “breakthrough” role (which ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor in order to save room for the opening credits).

If that doesn’t work, I still have plenty of options.  But if it does, my new career as an action/adventure star is just a stepping stone to my real dream – just think of it…Senator Wayne Chan.

An Unexpected Gift

August 31, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Sometimes you don’t find out about the life of a man until that life is gone.

I lost a cousin last week.  He was far too young to go.  I knew him as a down to earth, unassuming, and good-humored person. I knew he liked to take pictures.  I knew that if there were a family reunion, no matter what, cousin Horace would be there.

But most of what I knew of him I learned when we were both kids.

He loved gadgets and electronics.  He loved music and comic books.  He liked to fish, and the fish seemed to sense his joy by rewarding him with a lot of activity while my line would sit noticeably still in the water.  At the time, he lived close to us and since he was a couple years younger, it often felt like I had a 2nd little brother when he was around.

Time goes on, and while he only lived about two hours away, except for our annual family reunions, life often takes you down separate paths.  He stayed single while I got married and ended up with a carload of kids.  Life moves on and before you know it, you start to lose touch.

Of course, when I found out that he had become gravely ill, like much of our extended family, we rushed to his side, in the hopes that he might just make it.  Instead, each of us got to stand by him, and quietly say our goodbyes.

It wasn’t until then, and in the following days, that I really got to know cousin Horace.  I learned so much more about him.  I learned his life was about so much more.  I learned about how beloved he really was.

I learned all of this from his friends.

The moment we arrived in the hospital to see him, there were waves of people, crowding the waiting room, lined up along the hospital corridor, many sobbing, completely grief stricken.  At one point there were 50 people, practically lined up down a hallway, waiting to get a chance to see Horace.

I spoke to many of them.  Each one of them had a unique story to tell, describing in great detail how Horace had gone out of his way to help a friend or lend a shoulder to cry on.  He would help friends who never asked for his help.  He would surprise friends by dropping by to cook a fancy dinner or buy a welcome mat with a dog pictured on it because he knew his friend liked dogs.

I met one woman who told me that Horace had taught her to speak English when she came to the U.S. in the 1980’s.  Another friend sobbed as she told me that Horace had bought her a new car when she needed one.  Two or three more friends explained how Horace helped them get through a tough divorce.

Horace would drop by unexpectedly at one workplace or another and volunteer to fix their computers or deliver some food.  He would arrive for a party and serve as the unofficial photographer for the evening.  In a casual conversation, if someone happened to mention that they needed a book, or stapler, or panty hose, Horace would go out of his way to get it for them.

One friend mentioned, “Horace always has a smile on his face.  At the end of the day, that is the one thing you can count on – Horace is smiling.”

The outpouring of love and support from Horace’s huge network of friends was a surprise to many of us in the family.  Not that anyone was surprised that he had friends, but mostly from the sheer magnitude of it.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but my first reaction was a pang of guilt – I should have paid more attention.  I should have made more of an effort.  I should have known.

But such feelings can’t change the past, and fortunately, my life has been full of blessings already.  For cousin Horace – his life, at least according to his friends, was exceptionally happy.

Instead, I’ve come to the realization that while I could have had a closer relationship with Horace, I still have time to make a difference in the lives of all my other cousins and all my friends.

I have a handful of friends where I can recall one or both of us saying that while we rarely stay in touch, we both know that we are the best of friends and will remain so.  Yet, ever so gradually, time has passed and I can barely remember the names of their children, or if they’ve moved on from a job recently.

Last year I got together with an old friend and didn’t immediately recognize him as his hair had turned gray.

I know now, that a true friendship needs to be nurtured, just like anything you truly care about.  What I’ve learned from Horace, in the way he lived his life, is that I need to be present in the lives of those I care for.

That is the unexpected gift Horace has given me, and I am just one more person who owes him debt of gratitude.  Thank you so much, Horace.

I know, somewhere out there – Horace is smiling.