I came to the U.S.in February, 1978. As the plane was about to touch the tarmac at the JFK Airport, I saw two landmarks. To my right, The Statue of Liberty. To my left, The World Trade Center. Obviously, one of the landmarks is missing for quite sometime. I still can’t believe the World Trade Center is gone, ten years and counting.
People say it couldn’t happen here, but it did. Terrorism arrived at our doorstep with the first WTC attack back in the early 1990′s. We’re not immune by a long shot.
What as I doing on that day? I was supposed to start on a client project, but it was called off. I was kind of pissed about it. I got a phone call from my friend, Roslyn. She spoke frantically on the cell phone. She asked me where I was, I told her I was home. She said she will speak to me later. I didn’t think anything of it, except listening to the radio blaring from her car in the background during our phone conversation. It mentioned something about the Twin Towers. Lo and behold when I turned on the television, the news of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center came to light. My step-father was with me at the time. We were both stunned and speechless. He said, “This sort of thing only happens in a Hollywood blockbuster movie…” His voice trailed off into a gasp. My reply was, “Only this is NOT a Hollywood movie.”
My mom called form work to let us know she was ok. She was sobbing on the phone. She told me she fell to her knees when she saw the second plane hit. She and her co-workers witnessed the disaster unfold from their office building on 39th and Third Avenue in New York City. She was given a lift home by one of her bosses. It took her forever to leave Manhattan, but my step-dad and I were just glad she was home safe.
My best friend was working in the Rockerfeller Center area at the time. She told me she had to walk all the way home from Midtown Manhattan, to her home in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. My other friend was actually in the area of what is now known as Ground Zero. He remembered witnessing people jumping out of windows from the Twin Towers. What’s worse, both of my friends remembered the horrible stench of burning human flesh that lingered in the air for weeks that followed.
Three days after the disaster, my parents and I were watching the news reports that had unfolded. My mother suddenly burst into tears. She said, “I don’t know why I am crying! I don’t know any of these people, but yet I can’t stop crying!” I hugged my mom and said, “There’s nothing wrong with you crying for them. A rug had been pulled form underneath our feet and we didn’t know it.”
I drove by River Road around the area of Lincoln Harbor, in Weehawken, New Jersey. Two weeks had passed by and I still saw smoke burning from Downtown Manhattan. I even went for a walk in the area around Chinatown. It was such a sad site. All the buildings, windows and awnings were covered in ash and dust. Chinatown had been on a slow decline, business wise. The 9/11 attacks made things worse. Chinatown (along with lower Manhattan) still haven’t fully recovered to this day.
For a while, the country came together. Folks from out of town organized tours to New York City, hoping to boost the local morale and businesses. Workers came from around the country to help with the clean up and rebuilding efforts. The feel-good factor was short lived. It was back to political posturing and placing blame on immigrants and Muslim folks, which still persists to this day.
My most unforgettable moment from all this? I was walking around town with my ex-boyfriend at the time. A guy came up and started talking to us. He was very apologetic. He said, “I am so sorry to bother the both of you, but I had just lost my brother at the World Trade Center. I am very lost and I just need someone to talk to.” He then looked at my ex-boyfriend and said, “Forgive me for doing this…” He reached for my face with his hand and began stroke it. I never forget the tears in his eyes.
He said, “Please forgive me. Life is like a rose. It’s only beautiful for a short time before it dies.”
Papi and me at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles.
Father’s Day 2011 has a new meaning for me this year. My biological father passed away this February. He wasn’t a father to me very much, nor for my half-siblings. He was too selfish to ever become a parent in my opinion. The last time I spoke to him was two years ago. It wasn’t a pleasant conversation. Apparently a majority of my relatives don’t really want to have anything to do with him either.
I came to the U.S. when I was eight years old. My mother have been living in the U.S. and she remarried. I met my soon-to-be stepfather a year before when he came to Hong Kong to meet me. I was ambivalent at first because of my family’s screwed up situation. He was a quiet sort. He had the roundest head for a Chinese guy I thought. He greeted me with a smile and somehow I knew things were going to be alright from that point on.
I didn’t expect anything from him, being a step-child and all. My stepfather became more like a father to me than my biological one. He went as far as to fully adopt me by having my surname changed to his. He said he wanted to be a part of his family, properly. His family took me in as one of their own. As I’ve said before, I did not expect to be accepted by him nor his clan. I am very grateful for that.
He knew I had an appreciation for art, so he took me to galleries in SoHo, NYC every weekend. Museum trips were a must. He has an appreciation for modern art. One his regrets was not being able to take to the monumental exhibition of Picasso at MOMA in the late 1970′s. My mother did not mind moving the family to somewhere in middle America, but my stepfather was dead set against it. He wanted NYC to be a base for me to learn about culture and art. He didn’t want me to end up like a country bumpkin.
Like all parents and children, we had fights. I think my temper has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. We would have screaming matches over the phone. After a pause, he would say, “So, are you done?” Gathering my breath and composure, I would reply, “Yeah, I’m done. It’s all good.”
I remembered his late mother came to visit and stayed with us. It was the summertime. My parents were going out to dinner one night, but his mom came down with the cold. I was supposed to hang out with some friends that very night, but I decided to stay behind and look after his mom. He felt bad by having me staying home. I didn’t mind at all. I was honored to be able to look after his mom and get to know her a little better. For all the care and effort he puts into parenting, it was the least I could do for him.
For the record, I always address him as “father”, rather than “step-father”.
I felt bad that my father and my mother didn’t spawn a child to call his own. However, through all the good times and crap that went down, I am proud to be a member of his clan.
Blood is not always thicker than water. It is the people who step up and take the role of parenthood while others have failed.
I don’t have any members of my family in the military ranks, but Memorial Day holds another meaning for me. It is the one-year anniversary of the passing of my grandmother, Lee Choy-Wan. She was the third wife of my grandfather from my mother’s side of the family. I believe she was married at the age of 16, which was quite common and acceptable back in the day. She was a very strong and independent woman. She had to be. She ran for her dear life when the Japanese invaded and occupied China in the early part of the 20th century. She only had a sixth grade education, but she stood on her own. Being a concubine certainly did not suit her. Not only she refused to have her feet bound, she packed up and left the clan on her own. This was something unheard of for Chinese women back then.
She took odd jobs, mostly being a nanny. The job she loved the most was working at a photography studio in Hong Kong. It may not be much to you, but I can recall it meant the world to her. She delighted greeting costumers at the counter, working with old fashion wooden cameras. She was a great photographer too. One of her specialties was coloring black and white photos and photo plates with a brush and special paint. Her hands were rough, as she had often suffered from skin allergies. She often told me that she dipped her bare hands into photographic chemicals while she was developing photos in the dark room. It didn’t matter to her. It was a job she loved. I took great pride in taking up photography when I was in high school. She was beaming with joy when I told her I had taken up photo painting.
She and my mother did not get along. It was a painful relationship. She abandoned my mother because she had always wanted a son. She decided become a nanny to families with sons to fill the void.
I can understand where grandma was coming from. She was subjected to the rules for Chinese women in society. However, she had a talent in which she had flourished for a short period of time and then it was taken away from her. For an elderly woman, she thrived on her independence. I saw my grandmother for the last time several years ago. She was living in an apartment complex for seniors in the Chinatown section of Seattle. She did not like her neighbors at all. She always accused them for being too nosy. I used to call my grandmother often, but we talked less and less towards the end. She became paranoid and anti-social. She lived in a very dark one-bedroom apartment cluttered with papers, clothes, etc. Yeah, she became a hoarder too.
That independence came to an end when she broke her hip. She had spent her last several months at a nursing home. She was given not only medication, but anti-depressants as well. Since she lost her independence, she just gave up.
While she was staying at the nursing home, the doctors revealed that my grandmother was bi-polar/manic depressive. When my mother told me this, I told her that explained a lot of the things she had done in the past. She had gone through traumas of war, to the domestic traumas of being a concubine. Still, she had done things her way. There is no right or wrong about what she had done. She did it out of survival. Photography was the one moment of joy in her life. When that was taken away from her, she became resentful and withdrawn.
It made me think about how many Asian parents had gone through the traumas of war without being treated. Forget about going to see a shrink. It was often said, “Chinese people don’t need psychologists! They’re for those stupid American white folks who can’t take care of themselves!”
Well, I have news for the naysayer: you’re not as strong as you think.
What’s worse is the fact then problems go untreated, it affects the children of the next generation within a family.
I said to my mother, “Well, this may not be a consolation, but whatever grandma had done to you in the past, she didn’t intend any ill will. She couldn’t help herself. If she had been treated, things may turn out differently. Heck, if she took some Prozac, things would had been much nicer for all of us!”
My mother replied,” Don’t be so cynical!”
My grandmother took care of me for the first eight years of my life. Things were not rosy back then. My father wasn’t exactly the greatest person, which makes things complicated. My grandmother could had gone to another family and looked after a son, but she chose to stay and take care of me. I am grateful for that.
There are times I felt I became a recluse like my grandmother. Yeah, I lived like a hermit for a while. Even my mother regretted that I was in my grandmother’s care, thus I had taken after her in some ways.
Whatever it is, I’d like to think I’ve taken after my grandmother for two things: a love of photography and being an all around BADASS. My grandmother may have had her share of problems and faults, but she didn’t take bullshit from anyone. She can smell bullshit from a mile away. She had survived world wars, defiant against being a concubine, had a great eye for photography and stood on her own.
Here’s to you, 奶奶.
My grandmother, Lee Choy-Wan
Wow, can you believe it? The web site is now TWO YEARS OLD!
Damn, better start writing more articles…
My Mother and I at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles
I had dinner with some friends the other night. One of them noticed my love for food. I am often asked, “Are you a cook?”, or ,”Where did you learn to love food in such a way?” The answer is: my Mom. My mother loved to cook. She had cooking down to a science. She is forever fussing over which type of wok has the best circulation of heat, which spice to use, etc. My family is not rich. Both of my parents worked damn hard to send me to college, keep the family sane and have a roof above our heads. We could not afford to go on vacation every summer like many families do. Most of my friends at school went to summer camps, I helped out at the law office my mother worked at, doing clerical work and standing in line at court houses filing papers. My mom compensated vacation time with culinary adventures. Whenever it’s time for lunch, she would say, “Today I will introduce you to Greek food, Korean Bugolgi, or French culinary fare.” This may not be a big deal to most people, but it was an eye opener to other cultures for me. Her motto is, “Try it! See if you like it. If not, it’s fine.” Well, that became my motto for life. I would try one dish from a particular cuisine and I then dive in to see what other dishes the cuisine has to offer.
This extended into meals at home as well. My mom would go mad once she had discovered a recipe. My father and I are willing guinea pigs. She had made variations of Vichyssoise or Paella. Her version of Paella used Chinese sausages instead of Chorizos and she added Chinese sticky rice to the mixture of saffron rice.
Here are some of the places my mother introduced me to.
Kansuh Restaurant (Korean), Le Bonne Soupe (French), Hatsuhana (Japanese), Congee Village (Cantonese Style Rice Porridge) and Churrascaria Plataforma (Brazilian BBQ).
Everytime I pass by those places, I shed a tear and say, “Thank you, Mom.”
My parents retired, left NYC and moved to Los Angeles in 2006. Whenever I go and visit them, my mother would always ask, “What would you like to eat?”
I wish everyone in this world have a mother like mine.
Somewhere in my neighborhood
It’s been such a long time since I had posted anything on my blog. Some of you know I mostly post on Twitter, Facebook and articles for Examiner.com. The truth is 2010 is a year I would like to forget. I’m sure many of you out there feel the same way. I had lost more than I had bargained for, personally. The worst thing for me to watch my friends and family go through hardship and heartaches. That was too much for me. It seems depression has gotten on an epidemic level last year. Too many tears had been shed on a daily basis, it had to stop. It got to the point where I couldn’t even function, normally. I even ended up living like a shut-in for a while.
I had no idea what would happen when I started the Asian Culture Goes Pop endeavor. It sure beats depression, since it does bring me out of the dark from time to time. I never thought that I would make new friends online as well as in real life. What boggles me is the fact some of you out there actually give a damn in what I have to say.
And for that, I’d like to say, THANK YOU.
And because some of you actually give a damn about my endeavors, I get out of bed, grab my digital camera, learned how to edit videos on YouTube, interviewing amazing folks like Pat Kinevane and Boom Boom Satellites. I step outside my door, go to events, experience what Asian Pop Culture has to offer. Going to parties, concerts and events are not bad either.
The most amazing thing was I got to meet some of the folks who I follow, as well as being followed. It gets crazier when I realize some of you are mutual friends of other people I know. Six degrees of separation is a curious thing folks.
I can finally close the book on 2010. I hope many of you out there can do the same.
The shit stops now.
The Irish Arts Center in New York City, recently finished their limited engagement of Pat Kinevane’s one man show, “Forgotten”. This play is an eye opening look into what elderly people face in their twilight years. Kinevane wanders to the stage, wearing black-red kimono and only a pair of ripped pants beneath. We get a glimpse into the lives for the four characters, who reside in various nursing homes.
Kinevane weaves between each character’s personalities from Flor’s gruffness, to Dora’s prim ‘n’ proper gossip, right down to Eucharia’s make up tips. Rather than just performing for an audience, Kinevane “participates” with the audience by sitting next to an audience member and addressing them by their name, while he is “in-character”. The most unusual, yet heartbreaking portrayal was the character of Gustus. Kinevane sits in a chair, with his back towards the audience. A face mask is put on backwards on his head. The dialog was spoken through from a voice over. Kinevane provided the odd movements and gestures which are familiar with stroke victims. Gustus recalls his strained relationship with his daughter, always wondering why she never bothered to visit him. It was revealed when Gustus discovered his daughter was pre-occupied with a less than desirable profession that kept her from visiting.
While the dialog is steeped in traditional Irish storytelling, Kinevane weaves between characters with graceful movements adapted from Japanese Kabuki Theater. He used this Asian theater genre to give the elderly people not only a voice, but the grace and dignity they deserve.
It should be noted Kinevane and the Irish Arts Center hosted a panel discussion with health and elder care professionals on opening night in February.
Here is Kinevane explaining his use of Kabuki and what he hopes the viewer can understand from watching , “Forgotten”.
* My sincerest thanks to The Irish Arts Center, Chris Cullen, Karen Greco and most of all, Pat Kinevane, for making this interview possible.
Do you remember when you first met your best friend from childhood? Mai Mai Miracle is such an anime. Adapted from Nobuko Takagi’s autobiography, the film is a slice of life from post-war Japan. Shinko, a feisty tomboy, always imagined what life was like for her rural town of Suo, Yamagata Prefecture in ancient times. Her grandfather always tell her stories of Japanese royalty, wars and iron making in their town.
A transfer student from Tokyo, Kiiko, moves into Suo. She is every bit a princess from Tokyo: fashionable, polite, shy and clean cut. Kiiko is very much alone in her new surroundings and feels very much out of place. Shinko, ever the curious one, follows Kiiko home from school one day, just to see what kind of house Kiiko’s family lives in. Shinko also finds out that Kiiko recently lost her mother. Kiiko’s father is a doctor, so she is often alone.
Being the good friend that she is, Shinko decided to bring Kiiko into her world of friends, family and imagination. Upon Kiiko’s first meeting with Shinko’s family, Kiiko brought a box a chocolate candy in shapes of little bottles. However, Kiiko didn’t know these little chocolate bottles were filled with whiskey! So there was Shinko, Kiiko and Shinko’s little sister getting smashed by the time Shinko’s mother arrived. I can imagine certain parents in the audience may be up in arms about this scene, but I have to say the intention was a very innocent one. Needless to say, this is a beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Shinko and Kiiko often imagine the life of a princess named, Nagiko Kiyohara, who lived in Suo 1,000 years ago. Nagiko Kiyohara’s story sort of runs parallel to Kiiko’s: a well-to-do young girl who is longing for a friend. The film’s plot is interspersed with Sei Shōnagon’s, The Pillow Book.
The film does get confusing for me at times. Perhaps it could be the fact I am not familiar with The Pillow Book. I enjoyed the film nevertheless. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Since this is a slice-of-life story, don’t expect action or drama.
There were two young girls sitting next to me, sharing a thermos of hot drinks and cookies together throughout the film. One of the girls admitted to me she actually shed a few tears towards the end. I guess it reminded of her what it was like meeting her best friend for the first time.
Go see this film with your best friend when you can.
Ever wondered what happens to your toys and belongings that became discarded? Production I.G.‘s 3-D animated effort, Oblivion Island, shows you in-animate objects all have souls and a life of their own. Our heroine, Haruka, was just a little girl when her mother gave her a mirror as a gift. Unfortunately, Haruka’s mother passed away shortly thereafter. Haruka and her father moved away, packing along with all the memories from childhood (including her mother’s mirror) stashed away. Haruka just wants to get on with her life as a teenager.
Where do all the discarded belongings go? They get snatched away by Kitsune, a Japanese folklore legend of a magical and intelligent fox. Haruka made a fateful enchounter with a Kitsune named, Téo. She gets sucked into the world of the Kitsune, with no way out. She also finds out just what happens to all the junk that was discarded by humans: these magical foxes use all the junk create an island shanty-town of their own.
Now I wasn’t too impressed with the movie up until this point. I’m too keen on the 3-D art work from the beginning. Boy, was I wrong by the time Haruka lands on Oblivion Island!
Don’t believe me? Check out this screen shot.
Image from AnimeAlmanac.com
The creativeness of Oblivion Island is ASTOUNDING. Whatever doubts I had about the hokey 3-D artwork were erased from this point forward.
The friendship between Haruka and Téo is very touching. Little Téo is considered as a runt among other Kitsunes and is often harassed by a trio of gangsters. He reluctantly helped Haruka to find her mother’s mirror, who is now in the hands of the wicked Baron, who oversees the Kitusne’s world. The Baron also blackmailed Téo to trap Haruka, so she can become his personal slave. Didn’t the Baron know not to mess with small people?
There are some spectacular action moments, along with some touching, tear jerking moments.
The lesson learned from Oblivion Island: never take your belongings and memories for granted.