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.

Born Without a Funny Bone

September 6, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I’ve lost my sense of humor.

It was just here a minute ago.  I put it down for just a second while I was reaching for a snack, and then, suddenly – poof!  It’s gone.

This is a serious matter.  Writing a humor column without a sense of humor can be a problem.

So that I might find my humor, I’ve decided to backtrack everything I’ve done over the last few hours to see if that might help jog my memory.  Let’s see…what have I been doing the last few hours?

8:00 pm:  Decided to watch some television, maybe find a sitcom.  Then I thought I’d like a snack and found a nice, tasty bag of cheese puffs.  Nothing special on TV.

9:00 pm: Decided to give TV another chance, followed by a few more cheese puffs.  Yuck, another show with people eating bugs.  How disgusting.  Wow, these cheese puffs are great.

10:00 pm:  More TV.  More puffs.


Wait a minute!  Now I remember.

The truth is that I didn’t lose my sense of humor.  I’ve come to realize that I’ve never had a sense of humor.

I’m afraid it’s even more serious than that.  From what I can see, Asians in general don’t have a sense of humor.  We are not a funny group.

Now, you may ask, how did I come to this conclusion?  I’m glad you asked.

Flipping through the channels, I’m suddenly aware that there are very few Asians on television, and practically none on any situation comedies.  There’s no “Everybody Loves the Chins”, or “The Bernie Mah Show”.

In a recent report by the National Asian Pacific American legal Consortium, their study shows that Asians play 2.7 percent of regular characters, with virtually no Asian actors on situation comedies.  One network, CBS, had no Asian characters on any of their primetime shows.

Even on shows that owe much of their premise to Asian culture have little or no Asian representation on them.  The hottest show on television today, “American Idol”, which is essentially an extremely hyped up karaoke competition (which of course originated in Asia), has not had any major Asian singers in it’s history.  Unless, of course, you count William Hung, the famously off-key performer from a few years back (and please, let’s not count William Hung).

I have to believe that the studio heads of ABC, CBS, NBC & Fox have done their due diligence to search far and wide for a comedy that could find humor in the lives of Asian Americans and have come up empty handed.  They must have come to the same conclusion I have – Asians simply aren’t very funny.

Of course, as an Asian humor writer, this disturbing conclusion has put a serious crimp in my style.  I find myself frozen in self-doubt, uncertain that anything that I used to find funny is funny anymore.

For example:

When my uncle walks out of the bathroom with one end of a toilet paper roll stuck to his shoe and proceeds to walk down the hallway, out the front door, and halfway around the house while continuously unraveling the roll like a big long streamer – that’s not funny.

When any of my non-Asian friends asks me about what I might know about any given news story that happens to take place in Asia and my standard response always begins with “Well, my sources tell me…”  That’s not funny.

When my uncle and father become so absorbed in their conversation while walking in a park that they simultaneously fall into a bush of rhododendrons – that’s not funny.

When I once ask my six-year old son what he should do with all the food remaining on his plate when there were thousands of children in the world who were hungry and he replies, “Eat it real fast so they can’t come here and steal it?”  That’s not funny.

When my parents decide to plan ahead and purchase adjoining plots in a memorial park and my father asks the park director about getting a “group discount” – that’s not funny.

I suppose I’ll have to look into a new profession.  Maybe William Hung was on to something.  I can see it now…Asian-American Idol.