For One Family, A Different Kind of Shell Game

September 8, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Family Xmas 2005 Yesterday as I was lounging about in front of the TV, I came across a scene that reminded me how resourceful, skilled, and talented we humans can be.

To be specific, it wasn’t anything I saw on television that amazed me.  No, what amazed me was watching my relatives in the dining room across from me eating sunflower seeds.

You can learn a lot about social interaction simply by watching the way people eat – especially when they’re eating seeds.

Part of my fascination comes from the efficient way Asians eat seeds.  Unlike westerners, who tend to hold the seed in their hand, bite the seed to split the shell and eat the seed inside, Asians are more efficient.  Asians have a patented technique whereby several seeds are placed in the mouth and via a rigorous motion between tongue and teeth, each individual sunflower seed is shucked, shell separated, spit out, and seed digested.

While this technique has been handed down from generation to generation, you can still tell that some concentration is required, simply by looking at the facial expression of the person eating the seed.

By closely observing the seed-eating individual, you will immediately find that the various parts of the face appear to be focused on different tasks.  Obviously, the mouth carries the lions share of the work, which you can tell by noting that the person’s lips are continuously pursed, moving from side to side in a vigorous motion, except for a moment every ten seconds or so when the mouth erupts in a violent motion, ejecting the shell of the seed as if it were some foreign object invading the body.

[Editor’s Note:  As a point of caution, it is strongly recommended that any person seeking to observe this hull-spitting maneuver do so from a safe distance – say ten feet – and wearing protective goggles wouldn’t be a bad idea either.]

While the mouth is preoccupied with what I call the “Shell-Shuck” maneuver, the eyes have an altogether different role.  During the “Shell-Shucking” process, the job of the eyes is to dart back and forth, eyebrows furrowed in a serious gaze, with an expression that suggests that there could be a surprise any moment, with each individual seed.

Perhaps the eyes are anticipating that the next shell could come up empty without a seed.  The technical term for this result is being “shell-shocked.”

Beyond sunflower seeds, the variety of seeds Asians eat is impressive.  Along with sunflower seeds, a typical seed-eating diet can consist of watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, and several other seeds I’ve never seen before.

The smallest seeds, such as the watermelon seed, create the most questions for me.  In my opinion, when eating watermelon seeds, once the shell is removed, the microscopic seed is more likely to become lodged between your teeth before the tongue ever gets a chance to taste it.  By my calculations, a fully-grown adult, at one sitting, could polish off the seeds of every watermelon on earth, then eat a ham and cheese sandwich, before this person might ever utter the words, “I’m full.”

Besides my fascination with my family’s sunflower eating prowess, the other part that amazes me are all the other things people can do while eating seeds.  Speaking, in particular, while eating seeds, shows the true multi-tasking nature of seed-eaters.

As complex as eating a sunflower seed is without your hands, people still believe that they can manage to have an intelligent conversation at the same time.

Auntie #1:  So, what did…Sue…<smack, smack> say after she got <smack> home?
Auntie #2: Well, she…<smuck> wasn’t very happy <POOT!!!!!>
Auntie #1 (moving to the other side of the table and refastening her protective goggles): I just think she needs to control her <POOT!  POOT!!!> temper!

I wonder whether this multi-tasking can be used in other ways?  I wonder, along with eating all sorts of seeds, whether this time honored skill could be used on other products, like say, shucking oysters?  I bet my aunt could open an oyster, shuck the shell, eat the meat, and maybe even polish the pearl before shooting it out with a celebratory “POOT!”

Yes, yes, I know.  You could call this maneuver the ability to “shell fish.”

A Picture Perfect Picture A Pain to Perfect

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Ahh…the annual family photo.

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

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

It’s taking the picture that’s torture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Forbidden Fruit

September 4, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

As a service to our readers, I have taken it upon myself, in a never-ending quest to unravel the secrets of Asian culture, to seek out and uncover, at some personal risk to myself, the mysteries of Asia’s forbidden fruits.

That’s right – I’m here to tell you about all the weird fruit they have on sale at my local Asian supermarket.

Now, it’s fortunate that I’ve been able to travel to Asia frequently and I’ve seen the variety of fruit available over there.  There’s nothing in the Asian markets here that I haven’t seen for sale over there.  Still, I can imagine the initial shock of anyone walking through the produce section of an Asian supermarket for the first time.

Let’s take the pomelo, for example.  A pomelo is the largest fruit in the citrus family.  The term “large” is an understatement.

How big is it?

A typical pomelo is roughly the same size as a full-grown golden retriever.  I once saw a pomelo fall off a fruit stand and roll down a grocery aisle forcing women and children to flee in horror from the marauding citrus boulder rolling towards them.  A family of four could live off of one pomelo for a week and a half.  In some countries when you file your taxes you can claim your pomelo as a dependent.

It’s that BIG.

Rambutan is a fruit from Southeast Asia that has a very pleasant taste and is shaped similarly to lychee, except that the outside shell is round and covered with soft, crimson red tentacles. I don’t know how else to describe the look of rambutan except to say that it seems oddly perverted.  When holding rambutan in your hand at a local Asian supermarket, I have a tendency to look over my shoulder to see if anyone’s looking in my direction as if I’m doing something seedy.

The few times I’ve purchased rambutan at the market I’ve discreetly asked the bagger to stuff them into a plain, brown paper bag.

Then there’s the durian.  A durian is about the size and shape of a football covered with sharp, spiny, green thorns on the outside, looking a lot like a grenade on steroids.  Cutting a durian in half, you see two sacs, each filled with a grayish yellow gelatinous mass that looks a lot like the forensics scene from the movie Aliens.

Let’s not forget about the famous durian smell. Encyclopedia Britannica describes the durian smell as a “pungent foul odor.”  How would I describe it?  Take one pair of dirty gym socks, stuff them with some moldy cheese, drive them to your nearest dairy farm during the warmest time of the day, and voilà!  Pungent foul odor.

Despite the fact that the actual taste of a durian is sweet and creamy, what puzzles me is that some point at the beginning of time, one of our ancestors came upon this ominous looking fruit for the first time with all it’s spiny thorns, alien-like innards, and locker room smell, and was still curious enough (or desperate enough) to wonder, “Sure – it’s scary looking and smells like my feet, but I wonder what it tastes like?”

Maybe he was so famished and exhausted from lugging around the pomelo he found that he was ready to eat anything.

A Duck for the Ages

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

What is that old saying?  Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

It’s a common saying that usually pertains to how you feel when a person you care about is gone for an extended period of time.  The longer they are away, the more you look forward to them coming home again.

I’ve discovered that this rule applies to any number of things that might be missing in your life.  For example, I’m growing more and more fond of pizza by the minute.

My ever-growing fondness for pizza notwithstanding, I think the perfect example of this axiom has to do with my dad.

Ever since I can remember, from the time that I was a little boy, I can remember times when Dad would reminisce about his past.  My dad does not have a very good memory, so when he does remember something, especially if it’s something good, it tends to stand out.

So what would be the one pleasant memory my dad will consistently bring up?  Coming to America to start a new life?  No. Getting married and watching the love of his life walk down the aisle?  No.  The birth of his children?  No.

He talks about the one time my mom made a roasted duck for dinner.

She made this duck before I was born and this was no ordinary duck dish.  This was a duck made with taro, and according to Dad, it was dee-licious.

You have to remember – the duck in question was roasted in the early sixties.  This duck was hatched during the Kennedy administration.  There have been twelve Olympic games held since that duck was served.  I was born shortly after the duck and while I’m sure he was very happy holding his first born son for the first time, I imagine he was thinking how much better the day would be if there was another roasted duck waiting for them on the way home from the hospital.

But it was not to be.  In fact, my mom to this day, despite my dad’s frequent requests, has never made that duck dish again.  And if she knows what’s good for her and him, she never will.

Oh sure, she’s roasted plenty of ducks since then. She made ducks during the Johnson administration, through Watergate, and during the cold war.  But not that particular duck recipe.

There was no taro in all the subsequent ducks.

I know how my dad feels.  Along with the celebrated duck, my mom once made sweet and sour pork.  Now, we all know how easy it is to find sweet and sour pork.  Every Chinese restaurant makes it every single day.  But my mom made it once and only once.  No repeat performances. I can understand someone trying out a recipe and never making it again if it turned out badly.  But in the case of dad’s duck and my pork, it turned out great.  It was good.  Very good.  It was drool worthy.

On the other hand, Mom attempts to make a Thanksgiving turkey every year and every year it comes out so dry it’s closer to beef jerky than a roast turkey.  It’s so dry that any gravy in the vicinity of the turkey turns to powder once the turkey sucks all the moisture out of it.  This we get every year.

I’m not sure I understand the logic of it.  I suppose if there were some way we could change the constitution so that ducks and sweet and sour pork replaced turkey and gravy during Thanksgiving, we’d be all set.

The problem is, it has been so long since Dad enjoyed that single, solitary duck, that his enjoyment of said duck has grown to mythic proportions.  The way he talks about that duck nowadays, you’d think this duck was manna from the heavens.

I don’t think any chef, much less my mom, could roast a duck in a way that could match the expectations my dad has created.  A duck that is served only once every forty years?

I’m afraid dad would pass out from the anticipation.  It might even coin a new saying.

Absence makes the heart have irregular palpitations.

Crouching Child, Bedeviled Parent

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His sales pitch usually goes something like this:

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

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

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

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

How much?  Eleven dollars.

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

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

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

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

Then There’s the One About the Herd of Meatballs

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Don’t believe everything you read.  If there’s anything you might take away after reading this column, I hope you believe that simple fact.

Hmm…I think there’s something wrong with my point, but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Anyways, the point I was trying to make is about how in this day and age, the internet allows anyone who has a keyboard to write just about anything they’d like for public consumption, which makes it tougher for everyone to discern fact from fiction.

Case in point:  The mystery of the genetic robo super-chicken.

My father is a very educated and wise man.  He came to this country from China nearly penniless, and yet he’s gone on to become a respected university professor, written a text book, and owned several businesses.  He and my mother managed to raise my brother and I, support us through college and send us on our way to make our own lives.

Yet for most of his life, as with most people of his generation, when they read something in a newspaper, book, or magazine, they could usually trust that the information they were reading had been thoroughly vetted by an editor or publisher.

So you can understand how an errant e-mail might distort my dad’s “reality field”.

Let me just say, before I begin, that I did not make the following up.

Not so long ago, a friend of the family forwarded an e-mail to my dad with a disturbing report.  The e-mail, written entirely in Chinese, claimed that Kentucky Fried Chicken (now known as KFC), in an effort to cut costs and boost profit margins, had managed to genetically alter the DNA of a chicken so that these new chickens no longer had feathers, bones, a beak, wings, legs, or heads.

Essentially, KFC had created a living, breathing, full-sized chicken nugget.

Upon further investigation, I was astonished to learn that when these boneless blobs of chicken roll around vigorously in their chicken coops, they sweat honey mustard sauce.

OK, OK, I just made up that last part.  But, it’s not like after reading about this robo-chicken that someone’s going to read my little fib and say, “OK Wayne, now you’re just being silly!”

Seeing as how my father has always loved eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken (as does all of the Chan family, which probably has something to do with his DNA being passed along to all of us), he was immediately taken aback and aghast.

In fact, he was so repulsed by what he had read that it prompted him to write a letter to the president of KFC to seek out the truth.

In his letter to the president of KFC, my Dad wrote:

Dear Sir,

I have enjoyed eating KFC products for many years.  However, I am writing to you today because of an e-mail I recently received that deeply troubles me.  The claim I’ve read is that the reason Kentucky Fried Chicken has changed it’s name to KFC is because KFC no longer serves real chickens.

I would appreciate it if you would respond to these allegations so that I might be able to continue enjoying your products.

Thank you.

Surprisingly enough, KFC did manage to reply to my dad’s thoughtful letter.  In it, they assert that this rumor was an urban legend and that KFC serves the same type of chickens that we all might buy at our local markets.

Fair enough.  The only problem I have with their explanation is that it doesn’t exactly give me a vote of confidence when the last time I visited the supermarket I bought a big tube of boneless ground chicken.

Birthdays a Case of Diminishing Returns

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Ahh…sweet memories.

It seems not so long ago that I celebrated my 30th birthday.  I remember it fondly.

A surprise party.  All my best friends and family in attendance.  A beautiful cake.  My lovely wife, presenting me with my favorite cake from my favorite bakery with several candles on top to mark the occasion.  The opening of hand picked presents from the people closest to me and the singing of of “Happy Birthday” in a joyous celebration of this personal milestone.

Good times.

Fast forward 14 years.  A few of the details have changed.  Oh, I still have a beautiful wife, and there was a cake.  But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

My birthday dinner plans were cobbled together in a couple of minutes the day before my birthday.  On the day of the joyous event, my wife calls and tells me she doesn’t have time to buy any candles and asks me to pick some up on my way to my parent’s house.

Yes, you read that right.  I must run out to buy candles for my own birthday cake.

Dinner goes well, and as always, our family always enjoys opportunities to get together.  For dessert, the birthday cake is brought out, and this year the cake is not the one from my favorite bakery, but is instead a store bought cake from our local supermarket.  I know this because the price sticker is still on the cellophane of the cake box and in addition, I remember seeing the same cake earlier in the day as I was shopping for candles.

As the candles flicker on top of my ready-made cake, I prepare to blow them out.  But before I do, my mother stops me and says that we must not forget that my sister in law’s birthday is just a few days later and that we are celebrating for her as well.

There is a slight pause as I wait to see if she would like to “bundle” any other milestones or holidays under the auspices of what is quickly becoming known as the “all encompassing celebratory cake” as I note that “Groundhog Day” is only a few weeks away.

While it may not be hard for any of you to pick up on the latent bitterness as I recall my last birthday celebration, the truth is that I found the change to be more funny than anything else.  I don’t really have anything to complain about as I have a terrific wife and family.

Still, it’s not hard to extrapolate what lies ahead of me as I look ahead to my future birthday celebrations.
On my 50th birthday, all my friends and family will come to celebrate this major milestone in my life, topped off by a beautiful, home made cake festooned with candles and other festive decorations.  Of course, by that time I figure that I’ll be the one baking the cake so why not give it my all?

On my 60th birthday, we will most likely drop the whole “celebratory cake” thing and the formal celebration will entail me trying some of the free samples at Costco as I shop for my sister in law’s birthday cake.

They do sell candles there, right?

Anniversary – Part III

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Anniversary – Part III

I recently celebrated my thirteenth wedding anniversary.  I can confidently proclaim that after thirteen years, our union is an unqualified success.  We have seven-year-old triplets, a dog, a number of cars including a well-used minivan, a nice healthy mortgage, and a bank account with a balance that in the early years would fluctuate between comfortable and “Can we really live on this?”.

Through any number of trials and tribulations, through problems big and small, we’ve managed to celebrate the good times and pick each other up when times were tough.  As much as it is about being in love, the one thing I’ve learned about marriage is that it’s also about the solidarity that comes from two people who share a life together, and it’s that strength that has held us together as problems arise, as they inevitably will.  Well, we’ve weathered a lot – and after all of it, I know we are meant to last.

That’s not to say that we haven’t had our share of problems.  That’s a part of married life too.  As anyone who has a successful marriage can tell you, the first few years of married life are spent just trying to sort out the major issues – money, privacy, and the big kahuna – the other person’s feelings.

We’ve had honest disagreements over money.  We’ve had conflicts on how best to raise our kids.  We’ve had to face deaths in the family.  Most recently, we had to deal with a driver who lost control and drove into our backyard.

The funny thing is, after the ground rules are set, you spend less time arguing about really important issues, but just as much time on issues that don’t warrant any attention at all.  Case in point, a recent conversation I had with my wife Maya in the kitchen.

Maya: You didn’t replace the bottled water in the fridge.
Wayne: There’s still some water in the bottle.
Maya:  No, I saw what you did – there was hardly anything in it already, and you only drank a little just so you wouldn’t have to get a new bottle.
Wayne: I only drank a little because I was taking my vitamins, and I only needed a little.
Maya: Well, if you go get a glass of water for any reason, and you only leave that little for the next person, you’re forcing that next person to go get a new water bottle just to get enough water.
Wayne: What if the next person only needs a little water like me, just so he could swallow some pills?  In that case, I’ve left just the right amount.
Maya: That doesn’t make any sense!
Wayne:  I’ll tell you what doesn’t make any sense – since you must have been the one to get some water right before me, why did you leave so little instead of just drinking a little more so you could leave a full bottle of water for the next person?
Maya: Obviously, I didn’t need to do that because look how little you needed to swallow your pills!

The ironic thing is, after a long, drawn out discussion like this, a nice refreshing glass of cold water would have been nice.  But both of us would rather face the early stages of dehydration rather than give the other the satisfaction of seeing the other get another bottle of water.

So instead, I search the refrigerator for something else to drink besides the disputed water, until I finally come across a can of prune juice that has been sitting at the very back of the fridge for heaven knows how long.

I pull the lone beverage out from cold storage, trying to avoid seeing any kind of expiration date before I drink it, when, out of the blue, Maya says, “Wait a minute.  I was saving that for me!”

And don’t even get me started on the “Toilet seat up or down” discussion.

Anniversary – Part II

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Anniversary – Part II

As someone who has now been married for 13 years, I am getting used to friends telling me that we have now officially joined the “Old married couple’s club.”

We don’t invite those people to our house anymore.

Every year, my anniversary reminds me of how my marriage came to be.  It started with a proposal and asking her parents for their blessing.  But my proposal was no ordinary proposal.  If I recall, the circumstances around my proposal were that: a) I was proposing to a woman who was born and raised in Taiwan, 2) Her parents were still in Taiwan and did not speak a word of English, 3) They did not know I had proposed or even that I existed until my phone call to them, 4) Up until my call they had been insisting that their daughter come back home and not waste any more time in the U.S.

The objective of my phone call was to introduce myself, ask for their blessing, allow her daughter to “waste” more time and never come back to Taiwan to live, and most importantly, make the entire call in Chinese.

It sounds like the challenge in an international episode of “Fear Factor.”  At least I didn’t have to eat any bugs.

I prepared for hours for that call.  My fiancé Maya had coached me on what to say and how to say it.  Since I was using a number of Chinese phrases I had never used or heard of, I memorized every word phonetically.  The first line was the most important and I practiced over and over again the night before until I felt I had gotten it right.

Maya picked up the phone and dialed the number.  All I remember hearing was Maya saying, “Dad, I’m getting married.  Here’s my fiancé, Wayne.”  She handed me the phone.

The moment of truth.  “You can do this!” I thought to myself.  I tried to pump myself up – “Eye of the tiger!  Eye of the tiger!”  Whenever I get nervous I start remembering old lines from Rocky movies.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hu, my name is Wayne Chan and I would be honored if you would be a part of our wedding.”, I asked proudly.

There was a moment of silence on the other end.  It seemed like an eternity.  Then, all of a sudden, her mother says, “DO…YOU…SPEAK…CHINESE???”

I had two issues with this.  First, did she hear what I just said?  I just asked her if she would be a part of our wedding – in Chinese!  Doesn’t my asking her a question in Chinese imply that I speak it?  Or could it be that since I had to memorize most of the line phonetically, I may have made a mistake and instead of asking her to come to our wedding, it sounded like gibberish, or even worse, that it came out as some bizarre question?  Instead of asking them to our wedding, could I have inadvertently asked them whether they preferred to spread cream cheese or laundry detergent on their pet frog?

The second issue I had didn’t have much to do with the question itself – “Do you speak Chinese?” as much as the way she said it.  The way she asked me the question – slow, deliberate, with long pauses in between each word for emphasis, seemed more suited to the way you might ask your pet dog a question:  “Who…wants…a…doggie bone?!?”

In the end, everything turned out fine.  They liked me, and I thought they were terrific too.  For some reason, I’ve always been able to make a good impression with the parents of women I have dated. I still get Christmas cards from the parents of a woman whose name I have long since forgotten.  I’m not sure it’s supposed to work like that.

Still, I wasn’t completely sure that we were going to hit it off when I picked up Maya’s parents at the airport and met for the first time.  One of the first things her father said to me was, “You look better than I expected.”

That’s a good thing…right?

Anniversary – Part I

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Anniversary – Part I

My wife and I recently celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary.  The first few anniversaries were special events – a long weekend in wine country, his and her massages at an upscale spa, or a candlelit dinner in a French restaurant with a view of the ocean.  Each year’s milestone was further testament to the power of our wedded bliss, the strength of our relationship, and the realization that we had each found our one true love – a love worthy of an annual celebratory extravagance.  Someone cue the violins.

As each year passes though, it’s tough to keep up that level of enthusiasm and well, downright zeal.  For example, our last anniversary was a bit more mundane.  My wife Maya gave me a card, a generic card without any specific message on it from a set of cards she bought long ago at a closeout sale.  I know this because I was with her when she bought it.

Yet, I can’t claim that I did much better.  I managed to pick up a bouquet of flowers from Costco that I bought at the last minute as I was checking out with my gallon tub of peanut butter, four dozen eggs, and five-pound bag of breaded chicken cutlets.  I did buy a very romantic greeting card and managed to scrawl something sentimental down while waiting at a stoplight on my way home for our anniversary.  Unfortunately, I had to throw away that first card, and turn back to buy another one, when I realized that in my haste, I had signed the card to my wife with the words, “Best Regards, Wayne Chan.”

Still, I can say without question that this woman from Taiwan, who I have known for nearly half my life, who came to the U.S. 20 years ago and couldn’t speak more than a few words of English, is the love of my life.  Perhaps as the years go by, it gets a bit harder to come up with a present or idea that will truly surprise your spouse on your anniversary, and maybe because of that you sometimes end up not trying as hard.

Yet, while it might not seem as romantic, the more important point lies in how your better half fits in with what I call the “I can’t imagine” rule.  I can’t imagine not being able to share my day with her.  I can’t imagine not waking up to her every day.  I can’t imagine not having her in my life.

What do you know…more true than ever.

Perhaps some of the gratification I have towards my marriage is due to the fact that it started off a little rocky.

I had known Maya for only nine months, but even then, I knew she was the one.  So, being an old fashioned type, I knew I would need to propose to Maya as well as ask her parents for their blessing.  But, there were a few problems.  Number one: Her parents both lived in Taiwan.  Number two: Neither of her parents spoke a word of English.  Number three: Despite the fact that we had been together for nine months, Maya had scarcely mentioned a word about me to her parents (what that says about her feelings for me at the time will be the topic of a future column).

Despite these problems, I was confident I could weather them.  So I proposed – and after she gave it some thought, said a little prayer, and forced me to get a blood test, undergo a routine credit check and a thorough vetting of whether I had any prior felony convictions – she accepted.

It was what happened next that completely threw me for a loop.

Unbeknownst to me, Maya’s father had been sending polite requests to her daughter for her to come back to Taiwan.  He felt that she had gotten enough out of the American experience, and that it was time for her to come back home and start her career.

However, in this last letter from her father, he was no longer suggesting that Maya go back – he was now demanding it.  As luck would have it, Maya received the letter the day after she had accepted my proposal.

So now, my mission was to introduce myself to Maya’s parents, ask them to give us their blessing, rebuff the whole idea of Maya going back home…and do it all over the phone and in Chinese.

How will Wayne do it?  What will her parents say?  More importantly, what will her father do to Wayne when he finds out?  Don’t touch that dial.  Tune in for the next column – same bat time, same bat channel.

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