Friday, December 31, 2004

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Las Vegas, NV. So, naturally, my story begins at the (surprise!) Bellagio Buffet. My cousin Sandra, her husband, her cousin Vincent and I are probably on our third plates of Alaskan crab legs and shrimps. Each. We are laughing, eating in utter ecstasy. We have insatiable appetites and marvel at our family’s insatiable hunger for food, especially our youngest members.

Our Bellagio server comes to us – an Asian man perhaps in his 40s. Sandra turns to him, pieces of juicy Alaskan crab leg hang out of the sides of her mouth, smiles so beautifully, and proudly proclaims: "My 12-year-old cousin will eat you out."

I have quick vision and lose my appetite. Okay, not really, but close...

Friday, December 24, 2004

STOP DRINKING!

A couple of years ago, I got really inebriated at a company party and for months after when our company had any kind of social activity involving alcohol (which was lots), people would giggle down the hallway, "Don't get Cuonged!"

It wasn't so funny when they're laughing at you. But ever since then, I promised I would not be drunk at another company party. So last week when I attended my company Christmas party at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, I uttered so softly under my breath, "Only two drinks." But four drinks later, I seemed to be okay, though I kept telling myself to behave. Somewhere between drinks five to 4 am, I ended up in my boss's hotel room. At 8 am, I woke up next to two lesbians. Needless to say, nothing happened.

But darn, I got Cuonged again! Ugh...

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

FINDING THE FIRE

I feel utterly directionless.

I have plenty. I'm at where I should be in life. I'm a good person. I'm smart, kinda cute and occasionally fun to be around. I love my family. I have wonderful friends. I work hard. I get out now and again, though I'm insanely boring. I don't do drugs (anymore). Sometimes it's all so painfully normal...

I really miss doing work that matters. Once someone stopped me on the steps of Sproul at Berkeley and thanked me for creating Hardboiled. It didn't quite mean anything then 'cause the magazine was something that was just inside of me. Something that mattered so much I had to act.

I need to find that fire again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

HEROES OF THE WEEK

Here's to Americans who stand up to fight for issues that they care about. It could be me and it could be you, but most likely it's not... So, here's props to Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans who took Abercrombie & Fitch to court over their discrimatory hiring and advancement policies favoring whites. The class-action lawsuit awarded $40 million to Asian American and Hispanic American employee and job applicants.

Many of us talk about issues that we care about, injustices that need to be addressed, but others hear a clarion call to action and responsibility. Seize the opportunity to create change...

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

HOLY COW! MARIA SHARAPOVA AND TRACY SCOGGINS!

The last week, I've had the immense pleasure and joy of attending the WTA Year-End Championships at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, featuring the top 8 players in women's tennis, including big-name babes such as Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport.

I was having orgasms all week. I was in Tickemaster suite the first night. And on the second night, I was in the 10th row and watched as Maria Sharapova beat Svetlana Kuznetsova for the first time ever in straight sets! It was daring and spectacular tennis. I had to watch the next two nights on ESPN, but for the semi-finals, I had front row seats and watched as Sharapova outlasted Anastasia Myskins for the very first time! What a victory, beating two players she had losing records against! On Finals Monday, I watched as 17-year-old Sharapova beat Serena Williams to win the Championships! Maria played marvelous tennis all week and it was so much fun to watch live! I'm thinking next year I should pay for it. And you should too...

But what was also kinda fun was that I ran into Tracy Scoggins! That's right, Monica Colby from Dynasty and The Colbys (and Babylon 5). I loved Dynasty. You should see the pic, we look so cute together.

Maria Sharapova

Saturday, October 30, 2004

PATHETIC!

Everyone who knows me knows that I'm unequivocally good at one thing - eating. At a party, I'm at the food table and at the buffet I'm always swallowing. So, when a Pie Eating Contest was announced at work with a prize attached I knew it was mine to lose.

My first strategy was finding the right pie. David, a co-worker, suggested I go with pumpkin pie since the organizer selected pumpkin pie. Surely, she must know. So, I went with pumpkin pie and suggested to many co-workers they should do the same. The day before the contest, Christopher, another co-worker, suggested I go with blueberry pie 'cause it's liquidy I could swallow. Surely, you could do that. No pun intended. Hmmm... I could do that. So I changed my pie without telling the rest of my competitors.

As the 15 or 16 of the pie eating contest competitors sat down, I realized mine had crust. Damn! As our 1 minute began, I dug my face into the pie, breaking the crust. I don't remember what it tasted like except that that 60 seconds seemed to have gone on forever and really, I wasn't all that good at swallowing as I thought. But when the contest was over, pies started to fly. But two remained - mine and this other little Asian boy - Jack. I knew I had won. The crowd had already murmured how I beat little Jack. And when the official results came in, I had come in second. Pathetic!!!

Friday, October 22, 2004

ME, A MODEL?

You know how lots of models and actors say they were discovered accidentally. Waiting for a friend at an audition, having coffee, or just doing their normal everyday thing. Well, that's what happened to me. Kinda...

I'm in a very serious meeting at work. Megan interrupts and asks if any of us are wearing white waist-band underwear. People look at her and check their waist-bands. Nope, I turn to her. You are, she says.

A little white later, I'm in our photography studio. My shirt is off and my waist-band is pulled up a bit. My back is to the camera and I'm pretty uncomfortable. When all is done, I try to put my shirt on without turning around to Rob, the photographer and a big bottom, and Megan. They tease me, but I manage to coyly put my shirt on and leave...

But the next time you are at the video store and see the DVD cover to Dodgeball with a bruised back, that is my back. And my waist-band... How do I look?

Sunday, October 17, 2004

GUESS WHAT?

We are at the mall - South Coast Plaza. I don't really like the mall 'cause people sometimes touch you accidentally as they pass you by. And at the South Coast Plaza everyone's white, except for the Asians or Asian Americans. And me and Jean.

So we're in the Guess? store. 'Cause we were already everywhere else looking for jeans. We look good in jeans. The posters of Paris Hilton give us pause, and we hesitate a moment, but go in nevertheless because we're desperately looking for jeans. I find a killer pair but it cost $79. I put it back and actually find a pair of size 26 jeans. When did they start making size 26 jeans??? I put it on, but Jean agrees that if I gain a few pounds (which I'm want to do easily), I'll never put the jeans on again.

So we're back at the $79 jeans. The salesperson - Chris, I think - says he has those on and they're really cute. But it's $79! I tell him. That's not expensive, he retorts. I sigh. Jean is a little bit embarrassed. Look, I tell him, I'll buy it if you give me a discount. Jean is now horrified and turns to leave only... Okay, says the sales guy. She stops, is surprised.

He rings it up. We leave. I can't wait to put on my new jeans. I'll look so cute.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

JERRY AND SEX

Earlier this week, I went to all-you-can-eat sushi with friends. On the way there, I asked Jerry if he and Paul had sex often. Yes!, he exclaimed. Really? Yeah! Hmmm... Even after two years together? Yeah!

I don't know what it was, but that just seemed wrong. So, I asked, "How often is a lot?" He turned to us, "About 2 times a week?"

Two times a week? While I think that that is sufficient, that is not a lot. (But is should be considered "a lot"!) So, is sex twice a week a lot? Enough?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY

Sometimes the days are green, and blue, and black and gray and yellow. Sometimes I rise to dread to light to loneliness to joy. Too many days, it's the same thing. More time than I should racing, way more time covering my ass. Then the another precious day is over. Sometimes it doesn't feel valueable. Day in and day out.

But it is. And there's one thing each day that makes me smile. That snaps me out of any doldrum and makes me run to the front of the line. At about 12:30 or 1:00 pm, over the intercom system at work, her voice is so lovely...

"Lunch is ready."

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY

An acquaintance called and left a message. He said something about how we haven’t chatted in years, hoped I was well, that he missed me, that he loves me, and that I should really email him. I was overwhelmed, touched by his sentiment…

But the more I thought about it, it really irked me. He was really an acquaintance I barely tolerated and I thought I made that clear by not answering his calls, not striking up conversation when we happened to be at the same place, walking away from him and giving him the evil eye. Now my evil eye is very unmistakable.

I guess it's hard for people to see me as un-nice because of my friendly and warm exterior. Go figure. But lesson learned. So, the next time I dislike someone I will make it abundantly clear. Watch out, I'm unleashing my inner bitch!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

GOOD FRIEND, BIG IDIOT!

Last Sunday, my dear friend (who I'll name) Hoffman and I decided to sneak into a post-Emmy party. Now, we had no plan, no vision, just an idea.

We strolled to the venue and gave his name to the TV Guide girl. (His white name more common and thus might be on the list). She looked at us: Nope, not on the list. They might have spelled his name right, that happens all the time, I say. She looked at the list, Lachlan, could it be Lachlan? Of course not, but I smelled opportunity. However, my dear friend Hoffman, looked at her and said, No.

Leaving the lights behind and out of earshot, I turned to my friend. Idiot! Fucking idiot!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

THE BEST PARTY EVER!

Okay, not ever, but... On Monday night, I went to the premiere of National Lampoon's Gold Diggers. Red carpet, paparazzis, and lots of C-level stars. So much fun!

Will Friedle (ABC's Boy Meets World), Chris Owen (Sherminator from American Pie), Nikki Ziering (American Wedding), and Renee Taylor (The Nanny) from the cast were all there. Also present were Dick Van Patten, Richard Lewis, Cheech Marin and Dyan Cannon. And F-level celeb Tek from The Real World: Hawaii. I ate the whole time, munching on pasta, crab cakes and fried shrimp. Nibbled on more crab cakes and fried shrimp as they passed. My co-workers were a little amazed by how much food I was able to shove into my mouth. My friends wouldn't be though...

Then I spotted a tall, dark and handsome man who looked dashingly familiar. My co-worker was talking to him so I came over and (because I had a drink or two) asked, "Are you from Days of our Lives?" He was! It was Brody Hutzler, Days' Patrick! I have to start watching Days again.

Monday, September 13, 2004

DON'T HATE DEMENTIEVA

I've been really angry and mad the last couple of days. It's been stewing inside of me and I can feel this negative energy. And it's not really even their fault. So, I want to say I'm sorry to Elena Dementieva.

You see, on Friday, Jennifer Capriati was poised to (finally!) make her U.S. Open finals debut. She faced Elena Dementieva, whose serve is laughable and who Capriati has beaten in all their prior meetings, but in a tight third set tie-breaker, Dementieva beat Capriati - 6-0, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5). It was the fourth time Capriati was points away from the finals only to choke. She reported cried in the locker room, the latest defeat truly crushing. I willed Dementieva to lose in the final, which she did to Svetlana Kuznetova. As I drove home today, I realized that it wasn’t Dementieva’s fault. She has a really sad serve and can’t win a major, so I should feel sorry for her. So, you go Elena!

On another note, I believe in taking away lessons from everything. So, the lesson learned this week is to be mad at the right person. So, I’m officially over Jennifer Capriati. Sorry, Jen, but you’ve choked one too many times this year! (Umm, but good luck at your next tournament! You can do it!)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

CONFESSIONS

Lately, I've been adversed to taking showers. I don’t like wallowing in filth, but it seems too much effort to clean myself if I’m not going to work or doing anything. Which is partly why I don’t go out now – unnecessary showering.

Recently, my co-workers have accused me of throwing-up after lunch. Don't know why they think that, but I’ve only thrown up like 3 times in my whole life, once when I was sick and twice when it was chemically-induced. I love food too much and would never rid of it that way... The other way, yes.

In the last few years, I've had some close friends move away (and back), and I have to say, I really like not having them here. Phone friends are more fun, less maintenance. And they fit way better into your schedule. So, will you please move away already...

Friday, August 20, 2004

THE GREATEST CASTING EVER!

Gong Li + Zhang Ziyi + Michelle Yeoh = The Best Casting Ever!

It was announced today that the exquisite Gong Li (To Live), the mesmerizing Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and the enchanting Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) have all been casted in Memoirs of a Geisha. I know, I know. A book written by a white guy, produced by a white guy (Steven Spielberg), and directed by a white guy (Rob Marshall). But Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, and Michelle Yeoh are huge stars and superb actresses, and the ramifications could be huge for Asians/Asian Americans to carry lead roles in major Hollywood films.

Despite my initial hesitation about white people telling Asian stories, I love Gong Li and can't wait to see her in this film. She's a star! I am so excited! I can't wait to see them all together. Yeah! Gong Li rocks! This is the happiest day of August 2004!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

TENNIS, ANYONE?

Major upsets today at the Olympics - in tennis! First off all, the tennis competition sucked anyways because World #8 Maria Sharapova was not selected to play. But Roddick and Venus lost in straight sets! Oh my GAWD! It was so shocking I had to talk about it, but...

You see, a week ago, a good friend left town for a job. He loves watching tennis as much as I do! (Okay not as much as I do). But it was so much fun to have a tennis buddy. So when the news broke this morning, I had no one to talk to! They say that friends are people who understand you - even your lame love for tennis. And it was awesome to have a friend to share the drama of tennis, but... Hey, you outta town, you outta town. :-)

So, without much ado, I am soliciting for a new tennis buddy. Wanna apply?

Friday, August 13, 2004

UNTIL YOU GROW...

I used to think that if someone said something negative about me, it was true. If someone didn't call me, they didn't like me. That may be true, but it isn't. I used to be a whore for your love and affection. 'Cause I thought it'd make me happy. When I got it, I worried it'd slip away. 'Cause it was probably never real anyways. I used to need your words and attention.

"What does it mean to you?"

My therapist asked. I thought about it, but couldn't understand why it hurt. Years later, without her words, those questions echoed in my head. Now, I know that people’s words and people’s actions aren’t about me, aren’t a reflection of who I am. If you personalize people’s actions, when really it’s not about you, then you create the negativity that you secretly fear.

What does it mean to you?

Saturday, August 07, 2004

OBSERVATIONS IN NEW YORK

People love New York for tons of reasons. I am not one of those people.

I am not an explorer. New things don't excite me. I like the same comforts. I like to be on my own bed. I like to know where I am going to take my next crap. And I like being with me.

In New York, you are rarely alone. There's not a moment's piece of solitude. The car horns holler, people scurry and subway trains roar. It is loud. It is noisy. I think I'd want to live in the Upper East Side or Upper West Side, where it's sanitary and you don't have to intermingle with people. Unless they are cute and look like they have money. I want to find my quiet corner of New York. That's where I'll be, assuming it's in Upper something...

Sunday, July 25, 2004

KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS...

Caitline, my cousin's daughter, is four years old. While looking at pictures from another cousin's wedding in Vancouver at the beginning of July, she pointed to a picture of me with a wine glass in my hand. I was kinda shocked, I don't remember taking pictures that night. But I disgress... I was apparently toasting the camera. Caitline points to the picture and looks at me, "You were saying 'Cheers!' a lot that night." She mocks raises a glass, "Cheers!"

Yes, I was, Caitline. Thanks for reminding me...

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

TEXAS EMBRACES YOU!

Texas doesn't deserve the reputation it gets, particularly about being behind the times. For a state unabashedly rooted in a history of racism and discrimination, Texas has moved to embrace diversity and tolerance. Take... Hmmm... Well... Okay, well, take for example, a July 2004 decision by the Jefferson County to change the name of a street some of its citizens find offensive - Jap Road.

Originally named in honor of a Japanese rice farmer, Jap Road stretched for a little over four miles for over 99 years. That was until the Jefferson County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 on July 19, 2004 to rename the road. Some Texans, however, were upset to see such a rich part of Texas' history die.

"There is nothing racial about it," insisted Jimmy Norton, white guy/redneck.

You gotta love Jimmy Norton. Jimmy, here's to you and to Texas. Cheers!

Monday, July 12, 2004

I'M CONFUSED...

I dig Altoid's Tangerine Sours and recently bought 3 containers of them. They are really great tasting mints. I notice that they don't have calorie information, but... The other day, when I offered a friend a mint, she informed me that they were not mints. Not mints? You've been eating candy she says. What? I'm eating candy?!? But I don't like candy!

Are they mints? Are they not mints? I don't really like Altoid's Tangerine Sours...

Saturday, July 03, 2004

WINS OF THE WEEK

• Maria Sharapova, 17, demolished Serena Williams 6-1, 6-4 to win Wimbledon! in a stunning display of shot-making, intensity and fearlessness. Sharapova, in only her seventh Grand Slam appearance, becomes the third-youngest Grand Slam champion in Open era and will grace the cover of the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated, marking the first in two years a tennis player will grace SI's cover.

• My stomach, 29, devoured generous and tasty helpings of sushi at Vancouver's Sushi Garden! He had soft-shell crab rolls, rainbow rolls and lots of sashimi. At the Sushi Garden, for $8.95 you get 8 California rolls, 8 Alaskan rolls and 4 pieces of sashimi. It's like $7 U.S. What a bargain! My stomach was so happy.

Maria Sharapova

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

REPETITION IS THE KEY TO MASTERY

After college ended and I returned to the real world, I floundered into a haze of confusion, mainly about my self-worth and place in life. Some would resort to drinking or drugs, but instead, I admit, I bought Anthony Robbin's CDs. Yes, the really tall, really loud self-motivator. Hey, I was lost. (Okay, natch, I bought the CDs after the drinking and drugs). But I digress.

I listened to it once, but I wasn't ready to understand his message. But one thing stuck in my head: Repetition is the key to mastery. Tony talked about how imperative it is to repeat a task until you perfect it and reach your goal - whether it's to quit smoking, speak impeccably or play competitive tennis. It's okay to mess up and hit a bad shot, but if you want something, repetition is the key to mastery. Try it.

When I find a moment, I'm going to listen to the CDs again.

Monday, June 21, 2004

YOUR LIFE IS WORTH MORE...

I was going to celebrate his life. When people leave this world, you always want to remember their smile, their laugh, the shiny moment they crossed your path. But try as you might you are not going to remember his life. Vincent Chin's death - the aftermath of his death, the injustices - seems to overshadow his life.

Vincent Chin grew up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, as the only son of Lily Chin and her husband. After they discovered they couldn't have their own children, Lily and her husband adopted Vincent when he was about five years old.  I think when they brought him home it was Christmas and, in their tiny apartment, the small tree glowed softly.  They laughed in disbelief.  The immigrant parents spoiled their only child, but they raised him to believe in their American dream.  To believe in hard work, justice and richness of opportunities.  And despite the jeers at baseball games, the name-calling and the insults, they stayed in Detroit because they considered it the center of the America.  They saw hope everywhere.  And in Vincent, they saw the culmination of their American dreams.  In 1982, shortly after his father's death and a few days before his wedding, Vincent Chin was mistaken for Japanese and killed because of his race.  His killers, father and stepson, received three years probation and a $3,000 fine.  A heartbroken Lily Chin, shaken by the injustice, returned to China, leaving her American dreams behind...

Twenty-two years ago this week, on June 23, 1982, Vincent Chin died.  His death still resonants today.  It is a stark reminder that, despite belief to the contrary, we are, indeed, unequal.  And whether you admit it or not, whether you understand it or not, whether you see it or not, because you are white your life is worth more than mine.

Friday, June 11, 2004

I FOUND MY BELLY BUTTON

A few months ago, a friend, and I won't mention who (mean bastard!), asked me when I was having my baby. I laughed. But a week later, I looked down to pick my belly button (I was bored!) and, to my horror, saw a swell of fat. I couldn't even wedge a finger into my belly button. It had disappeared! I was pregnant.

It was true, I was at my heaviest. I knew I had to diet, so I ate like mad, then told myself I'd do it next week, then ate like mad again and told myself I'd really do it next week. Well, you get the idea. Then I thought, Oprah said, "Discipline is doing it even when you don't want to." Inspired by the goddess that is Oprah, I ate, threw up, took diet pills and then gymed everyday. (Okay, not really the diet pill or throwing up part).

The other day, I looked down and found my belly button. It's so cute, even the black stuff. I like sticking my finger there. Wanna touch?

Monday, May 31, 2004

ASIAN AMERICANS THAT MADE A DIFFERENCE

As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2004 closes, I'd like to spotlight APAs that have paved the way for APAs today and changed the world with their talent, creativity and leadership. Here are some Asian Americans that made a difference...

Anna May Wong actor
The first Asian American actor in film, television and Broadway, her career began in 1921, with roles opposite Marlene Dietrich and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

Chinese Railroad Builders pioneers
They are the unsung heroes and pioneers who built the Transcontinental Railroads between 1865 and 1869 that connected America, and changed the ways Americans lived.

Fred Korematsu activist
He challenged the forced internment of Japanese Americans and lost in a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1944, but finally vindicated in 1998 when President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Maya Lin architect, designer
At 21, she designed America's most emotional memorial, beating world-class architectural firms, to create what is considered the finest work of art - the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Maxine Hong Kingston author, educator
Her books are considered the most widely-read books on college campuses because she is a mesmerizing storyteller, renown author and insightful educator.

Chang-Lin Tien educator, activist
He was the first the Asian American chancellor of a major research institution - UC Berkeley - who fought for equality in education and roared "Go Bears" melodically. Tien died in October 2002.

Connie Chung news pioneer
She was the leading Asian American anchor on network news, and only the second woman, behind Barbara Walters, to sit behind the desk of a network evening news show.

David Ho researcher
Named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1996 for his advances in AIDS research, he helped create a vaccine that dramatically increased mortality.

Margaret Cho actor, activist
In 1994, she was the first Asian American lead of a prime-time network television series, starring in ABC's All-American Girl.

Gary Locke politician
He was elected governor of Washington in 1996 and was reelected in 2000, becoming the first Asian American governor in the contiguous United States.

The list represents only a small number of APAs who have made a difference. There are many APAs who are pioneers, including Haing S. Ngor, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1985; Bruce Lee, who gave us a hero; Ann Curry, who is in our living rooms everyday; and Ang Lee, who is a master filmmaker. I urge you to learn more about leading APAs, and share them with me and each other. Until next year!

Monday, May 17, 2004

CUONG'S BOOK CLUB: APA HERITAGE MONTH EDITION

I started Cuong's Book Club to share books I feel are mesmerizing, riveting and relevant; books that shed light onto our lives. Though continuing that goal, this edition of Cuong's Book Club takes a decidedly APA-angle with books that shed light onto the richness of Asian Pacific America. Take a look at the below:

Strangers From A Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, by Ronald Takaki
Takaki's book is considered the preminent book on APA history. His thoughtful and lyrical rendering traces APA history from the beginning to today's complex social, political, and economic climate. A must-read for anyone interested in APA history.

Making Waves: An Anthology of Writings By and About Asian American Women, by Diane Yen-Mei Wong & Emilya Cachaperoi
A riveting anthology about Asian/Asian American women by Asian American women. It's a powerful, touching and captivating book that explores the richness and diversity of Asian American women and their families. (Ah, whoever has my copy, please return it!).

Fifth Chinese Daughter, by Jade Snow Wong
Originally published in 1945, Jade Snow Wong's account of growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown between two cultures is about self-discovery and identity. The book gets flak for being "stereotypical," but I think there are more layers between the words.

America Is In the Heart: A Personal History, by Carlos Bulosan
The riveting story of a young immigrant man's struggle in America. It is sometimes dark, raw and bittersweet, but Bulosan's voice is mesmerizing and his struggle heartfelt. This is a deeply moving book.

Asian Americans: An Interpretive History, by Sucheng Chan
Though not as widely read as Takaki's book, Sucheng Chan's book is an excellent historical account of Asian America. It is simple and straightforward, but a compelling and thoughtful read. This should be read along with Takaki's book.

The next time you decide to pick up a book, I hope you will consider one of the books featured in this special APA-edition of Cuong's Book Club. Read well!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

THE "O" WORD

Oriental. The word means "east." It is not a dirty, repulsive, derogatory word. It is colonial, Euro-centric, placing Europe as the center of the world, and Asia, being east of, as the Orient. But the word oriental, when referring to people of Asian heritage or descent, is a dirty, repulsive, derogatory word.

Oriental wasn't meant to be dirty. As cultures, attitudes, norms and ideas shift throughout time, so do words. Originally used to refer to people "from the east," the word took on nefariousness in the late 1890s when competition for jobs lead to xenophobia, and the word was articulated with a dirty scowl. Lacing the word with images of savage heathens, of sub-class citizens; the same way nigger degrades a race.

Oriental in of itself isn't a dirty word, but history has made it so.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

10 MOMENTS THAT CHANGED ASIAN AMERICA

In 2000, the U.S. Census estimated that there are over 12 million Asian Pacific Americans in America, over 4% of the population. Today, Asian America is rich, diverse, complicated. But for years, legal restrictions have sought to keep APAs out of the U.S. In this entry, I’ve traced 100 years in American history that irrevocably transformed Asian America.

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882:  The act, the only in American history to exclude a group based on race, suspended immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years and later revised to include "all persons of...Chinese race." In 1904, it was extended indefinitely.

The Earthquake of 1906:  When government records in burned in San Francisco's City Hall, many Chinese, to circumvent racist immigration laws, claimed to be natural-born citizens, and thus able to bring their wife and children to America.

Gentlemen's Agreement (1907):  Japan agreed to halt issuing passports to those who wished to emigrate to the U.S., in exchange those already present could bring over their wives. Unlike the Chinese, this allowed the Japanese to set roots in America and develop family structures.

Angel Island Opens:  Between 1910 and 1940, as Europeans came to America through Ellis Island, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at Angel Island in prison-like atmosphere for weeks, months or years.

The National Origins Act of 1924:  The act set up a quota system that only allowed for immigration based on 2% of that ethnic group's 1890 census and created a "Barred Zone," which included all Asian countries. The act virtually eliminated Asian immigration.

Executive Order 9066:  After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the secretary of war to designate military areas "from which any and all persons may be excluded." Japanese Americans were interned in camps. EO 9066 was rescinded in 1976.

Repeal of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (1943):  With China as its ally during World War II, the U.S. could no longer ignore the hypocrisy of its laws toward the Chinese. Thus, Congress repealed all Chinese exclusion laws and allowed for Chinese to become eligible for citizenship.

McCarran-Walter Act of 1952:  The first major immigration legislation since 1924, though it kept the quota system, the act nullified the racial restriction of the Congressional Act of 1790, which only allowed freed whites to be eligible for citizenship. The Japanese were now eligible for naturalization.

The Immigration Act of 1965:  The act eliminated the "national origins" quotas systems used for allocating immigration and created an equal footing for Asian counties. The landscape of America today is a direct result of post-1965 immigration legislations.

The Death of Vincent Chin:  In 1982, Vincent Chin was killed by Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler supervisor, and Michael Nitz, his stepson and recently laid-off automobile industry employee, because they mistook him for being Japanese. Detroit, motor capital, was steeped in unemployment; American auto industry crumbled, Hondas soared. They blamed Vincent. Ebens and Nitz pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were give three years' probation and a fine of $3,000.

There are amazing, breathtaking stories behind these moments and there are more moments that defined and shaped Asian America. This month, I urge you to find out more about The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or the legacy of Vincent Chin. I hope learning about America's history stirs you as it does me.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month - a celebration of the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States. This month, I encourage you to explore the heritage of APAs by visiting a museum, seeing a show, or going to a film festival. Do something to commemorate your fellow Americans.

May was chosen as APA Heritage Month to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in 1843. APA Heritage Month began in 1979 as APA Heritage Week during the first week of May. Two years earlier, Representative Frank Horton (New York) and Norman Mineta (California) introduced a resolution that called upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as APA Heritage Week. The following month, senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both were passed. In October 1978, President Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration. In 1990, President Bush extended the celebration to a month. And in October 1992, Public Law 102-450 designated May of each year as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

This month, to commemorate the achievements and contributions of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States, I will bring you APA-themed entries. Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Friday, April 30, 2004

THE DAY SAIGON FELL

On this day 29 years ago, Saigon fell. A country separated by decades of war, imperialism, and ideology was abruptly reunited in communism. After years of living alongside war’s atrocities, despair and horror, by nightfall, Saigon was suddenly no more; it was re-named Ho Chi Minh City.

April 30, 1975 was an unforgettable day for Viet Nam and its people, and a day that changed the world. In the panic and uncertainty of a united country, many fled their Viet Nam. It is estimated that during the first ten years after the fall of Saigon, over a million people fled by boat across the perilous South China Sea seeking freedom and a new life. In the light of the moon, boats over packed with desperate people wandered into the dark of sea. The homeless “boat people” willed the waves to carry them to safety. Those who survived, those who didn’t encounter pirates, those whose prayers were answered landed in refugee camps in Thailand, Philippines or Malaysia. On their way to freedom...

Looking back, the sea is so powerful. It brought many of us to a new life. But too many drifted into the endless waters and lost their way. Gone. On the anniversary of the fall of Saigon, we who are the lucky ones, can not forget that other boat people, our Viet Nam brothers and sisters, died seeking feedom and a new life. Everyday is good.

Friday, April 23, 2004

WHAT I'M OBSESSED WITH...

REALITY TELEVISION:  I’m pretty perplexed as to how this happened. I love The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno (I love Veronica!, even though she’s a bitch), but somehow I got sucked into watching High School Reunion (sooo good), Survivor (why does everyone hate Shii-Ann? Racism!) and American Idol! Yep, I vote for the Asian contestant. Go Jasmine!

THE GYM:  I am there about 5.5 days a week and dammit, I am going to lose some body fat. Unfortunately, when I last measured a few weeks ago, I was around 19% body fat (which is so not good for someone my size); but I’m aiming to decrease my body fat to around 10%. And though I always thought my chest was pretty big, seeing other people's huge chest at the gym, I want bigger ones now. I want a huuge chest too!

HILLARY DUFF’S METAMORPHOSIS:  Maybe she can act, but she definitely can’t sing. The lyrics are laughable, her voice screeches. Sure, like teeny poppers before her, Hillary Duff is molded towards 12-year-old girls, but I’m not embarrassed to admit it - I like her a lot! My advice - turn it up really, really loud and suddenly So Yesterday and Come Clean sounds awesome! And, yes, Jean, I will burn you a copy. You're...welcome!

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

DETAILS, DETAILS

Applause, applause to people who raise their voices and make a difference.

Last month, Details published a racist, homophobic, and humorless article perpetuating archaic and offensive stereotypes of Asian Americans and gay Americans. The piece features a well-dressed Asian male with the headline "Gay or Asian?," and with text orientalizing Asian culture. This kind of blatant act of racism and homophobia, if left unopposed, reduces Americans of color, Americans of different sexuality to caricatures, relegating them to otherness. Which breeds ignorance. I am dismayed that a publication that reaches so many people can display such lack of class, awareness, and tolerance.

But ignorance will no longer go unchallenged. Americans are raising their voices. The Asian Media Watchdog and Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York galvanized people of concern to protest at Details' offices in New York. And many individuals have launched online petitions, including Daniel Lee and Julia Oh. I applaud their work.

I implore you too to take action. Cancel your subscriptions to Details, tell your friends to cancel their subscriptions! Sign the petitions or write to Editor-in-Chief Daniel Peres at dan.peres@fairchildpub.com, or educate writer Whitney McNally at whitney.mcnally@fairchildpub.com. Raise your voice. Be heard!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

NEFARIOUS FRIED CHICKEN

The pieces of fried chicken taunted me. Eat me! Eat me! You know you want me! They winked knowingly. I looked around and saw no one, save for the pieces of fried chicken. Gulp!

Everyone talks about quitting this, doing that, but don't. I'm one of those people too. But when you want it enough, whatever it is, you must make the commitment. A commitment is an agreement that you are willing to do the work it takes to succeed. If you are, you must develop a plan that holds accountability for your actions and commit to doing the work. It's okay not to succeed everyday, but be honest about your progress. Remember, discipline is doing it even when you don't want to. It's hard, but you too can succeed.

Staring at the fried chicken, I knew I had to make a life-altering decision and commit myself now to being healthier or never. So, with much sadness, I shrugged and left the pieces of fried chicken. They were not happy, but I was actually okay. Hmm... Maybe there'll still be there for me tomorrow. Hope no one eats 'em!, hope no one eats 'em! (Shrug).

Thursday, March 25, 2004

A LONG MARCH, PART II

She whispered to me. But I turned back to sleep. (C'mon, it was Saturday around 10 a.m. You'd do the same!) Ah, Cuong!, she coaxed again, then in a hurry, she released her words, waking me. I gathered myself, turned to her, but she was gone. Her words lingered. Maybe it was a dream. I sat on the edge of my bed. I dialed my sister. She told me California Grandmother's children were summoned to the hospital around 5 a.m. this morning. When they got there, the doctors had pulled her out of my dreams and brought her back to us.

The California Grandmother had an unforgettable laugh. A laugh that opened her smile, that grasped for words. I think every time she laughed it took her breath away. You never saw it in pictures, she never smiled for them. Grandmother came to California in 1981 with her husband and three adult children. She cooked, she cleaned, she took care of her diabetic husband (until he died in 1986). She raised many generations of family. In some ways, she was everyone's mother. Grandmother was so dutiful, so lovely.

But Grandmother also had an insatiable fascination for American television. She, like millions of other Americans in the 80s, loved Dynasty. She referred to the show as The Old Man, well, because John Forsythe was pretty old. Every Wednesday night, she and my aunts sat in front of the television in a trance. She also loved The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. The show always made her laugh uproariously along with Johnny or his audience. Then she'd turn to one of us grandkids, a smile still in her laugh and asked us what he said. See, Grandmother didn't understand a word of English, but growing up, to us, you'd never know it the way she understood her American world. She always laughed so hard.

All day I kept thinking about that dream. It felt so real to me. That night, my sister called. I now forgot her words. Only that the California Grandmother had died this morning. Grandmother's children had come home shortly after sunrise, but around 10 a.m., they were summoned back to the hospital. This time, Grandmother was gone. All day her words illuminated my mind. To tell you the truth, when she punctuated my dream, I heard her clearly. Four years ago today, my grandmother, my father’s loving mother died. Her laugh extinguished...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

UGH!

"The American corporate executive, the foremost representative of Man in the world today, was perfectly capable of burning unseen women and children in the Vietnamese jungle, yet felt a large displeasure and disapproval at the generous use of obscenity in literature and in public."
-- Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night
The stage is set, the masses are fuming. From gay marriage to censorship, basic human rights are being covertly denied. Under the guise of protecting our children, the Bush administration is seeking to silence Americans with its fury over broadcast censorship, and advocate discrimination with its policy on marriage. It's egregious, unjust.

The masses are fuming. Outraged, Americans are waking up and claiming their voice. Take for example, Jennifer and Dana, who were married in a small town in New York. Howard Stern (though not my favorite), using his radio show to unleash his opposition to anti-gay marriage and censorship, and advocating listeners to remove Bush in November! And Alexandra Paul, from Baywatch (one of my favorite shows!), has made it her mission to attack war and demolish Bush. Like them or not, celebrities have the power to reach and access many Americans, and perhaps present issues in a way that can compel many to act. Some have. In the fight for basic human equality, we've formed strange allies. And motherfucker's going down!

Please check out the links throughout this entry. There are worthy reads. Also, see Britain's Channel 4's star-studded ad, though not about censorship, I like the idea of re-articulating what is decent. And a North Carolina elementary school in the cross-fires of controversy when parents of a student were outrage by a book about a prince marrying another prince!

Many Americans, compelled by a mighty conscience to act, are making a difference. So moved by their actions that, well, I'm seriously considering registering to vote! Maybe...

Monday, March 08, 2004

A LONG MARCH, PART I

Two years ago today, Viet Nam Grandmother, my mother's mother, left us. She was 87 years old. In the days following her death, her children from Canada, California and Australia, and many grandchildren returned to the soil of their blood. Grandmother wouldn't have wanted it. She had insisted they not come home for her. Her words were so clear. But Grandmother had already gotten her way, dying when she did. Refusing to wait for her children, refusing to let them breach her life's last wish. So, two years ago, with a touch of defiance, in the calm of day, she bade us good-bye...

I lost her in my earliest memories. There are hazy gray images of a house in Ca Mau, a childhood in the aftermath of war, and a flight from home into endless waters. But no Viet Nam Grandmother. For years, she came to me on paper. Flat, still images of an old woman with shoulder-length white hair, perfect wrinkles, and smiling eyes. To me, she was the picture grandmother, almost mythical.

Many years later, Grandmother came to life to me. But it was another time with her, in her world, that I saw the strength of my life blood. In 1995, weeks before Grandmother turned 81, the family from across many oceans, Oldest Uncle and his family, Oldest Aunt, my mother, Fourth Aunt, Youngest Aunt, little Stephen and I, returned home. To their Saigon. Along with the Viet Nam siblings - Youngest Uncle and Third Aunt, Grandmother was reunited with all her children, for the first time since they fled more than a decade earlier. So for her birthday, they all returned home.

For two weeks, Viet Nam stood still in time. The united family illuminated the house with ordinary moments: laughs, food, and stories. We woke up early. We went shopping. We made offerings at Grandfather's grave, cleaned his tombstone so the red and green characters shone. We held a banquet in Grandmother's honor. We snapped so many pictures. The tiny moments seemed somehow more than ordinary. The oceans separated us, the years passed us by, but we were now a family.

In the family home, I found pictures of Grandmother no one sent me: During the war, Grandmother was forced into the jungle to perform war's work, working so hard, I think she became blind. When she came home, she was forced to attend late-night meetings like so many other families. Despite the destitution and poverty, she saw how beautiful her country was. She was a woman who felt the greatest pain of loss when her children fled, but she endured.

The Viet Nam family had almost forgotten the time, almost erased the years of sadness of separation and lives apart. But time doesn't wait for anyone. And on the last day as a family in Viet Nam, on the day of inevitable separation once again, there was a tense, somber silence. No one wanted to cry, no one wanted to be the first to cry. But somebody did. Then, we all did... Somehow, we packed into a van, but not wanting to leave, not wanting to let go of her. We tuned the corner. Grandmother stood there in the yard and waved.

Grandmother had talked about death before, about wanting to be with Grandfather. But in 2002, when she called Oldest Uncle, her words lingered. "I'm going to die," she told him. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The children in Canada, California and Australia told her they were returning home. Grandmother didn't like the fuss. "Don't come," she protested. "I'll be dead by the time you get here." There were more calls, some emails, and plans were made to return home to see Grandmother.

Shortly thereafter, Grandmother went into the hospital for a minor procedure. Something with a toe. Youngest Uncle had left her, leaving Third Aunt to look after Grandmother. When Third Aunt checked in on her, she was blue or green, the Vietnamese word is the same. Fourth Aunt panicked. But Grandmother was gone.

This is what happened: After 20 years of being separated from Grandfather, Grandmother was ready to go to him. She heard him calling all these years, but she told him to wait... All these years, she stayed alive for her children and grandchildren. But she could no longer bear it, she couldn't hold on to life any longer. She told Grandfather she was coming. Told her children not to come home for another good-bye. Grandmother had already said too many good-byes in her life, each one seemed like the last. So, that day, in the hospital, she quietly left us. But Grandmother turned herself blue or green so they knew unmistakably that she left to be with Grandfather. Grandmother died three days before Oldest Aunt and my mother were to arrive home. Gone, like she said she would be...

Within days, Grandmother's orphaned children and many grandchildren returned home. In her house, her body laid still. Her children gathered around her. She looked so tiny. So much smaller than the life she embodied. Then, she was finally laid next to Grandfather. On the headstone, her name in green, now traced over carefully in red. Her name now etched in red too.

Two years ago, Viet Nam Grandmother gathered all her children together one last time. Only she could do it. So she did. She wanted them to be with each other, to lead her to Grandfather and return home, without her. They united their parents and retreated to Grandmother's suddenly empty house. But after they released her, Grandmother found her way home too. She wandered into her house, in on her children. Undetected. They were all there, her children and grandchildren, full of thoughts. She held them close one last time, so proud, so happy, before she said good-bye. And Grandmother left to be with Grandfather...

Thursday, March 04, 2004

CUONG'S BOOK CLUB

If Oprah Winfrey can do it, I can do it. Oprah has such an enormous impact on people's lives through her show, her magazine and her philanthropic work. And to top it all off, she's the first African American woman billionaire.

They say that if you want to succeed, the most effective way to do so it to model yourself after someone you want to aspire to be. One day I would like to be Oprah. Just not the female or African American part 'cause I like being a guy and I like being Asian. But I digress... So, if Oprah can do it, I can do it...

On my road to Oprah-dom, I am going to start small. So, if Oprah can have a book club, I too can have a book club. (Since I'm so far behind Oprah, only this list will contain more than one book). Without further ado, my first step towards Oprah-ness: Cuong's Book Club's first list...

Charlie Chan is Dead, by Jessica Hagedorn
The title refers to the "death" of the stereotypical caricatures of Asians as depicted in the nefarious Charlie Chan movies. With bold and often provocative stories ranging from sex to revenge to homosexuality, this anthology proves that stereotype is, indeed, dead. And in doing so, confirms the depth of Asian Americans and Asian American writing.

Becoming A Man, by Paul Monette
From the first line of his book, Paul Monette captures your attention and takes you on a journey of self-discovery, shame, and life in the closet, where "self-pity becomes your oxygen." Monette chronicles his life and traces his struggle to breathe. It is raw, bittersweet, intense, but the writing is poetic and gorgeous.

The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston
Maxine Hong Kingston's National Book Award-winning novel Woman Warrior is part fiction, part memoir about her childhood living among "ghosts" of the past and "ghosts" in a new world. It explores sexism, racism and the forming of new cultures. Kingston's writing is full of beautiful prose, great mythology, and startling truths.

The Armies of the Night, by Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night was mentioned in a previous entry, but it's worth noting as an official Book Club selection because it is thought-provoking. Mailer writes about many things, in particular re-articulating war and peace. Full of great observations and ideas, Mailer leads you to question history and your place within it.

Paradise of the Blind, by Thu Huong Duong
Thu Huong Duong's Paradise of the Blind was banned in Viet Nam, where the author lives. It is the tale of a mother and daughter whose allegiance to Viet Nam's past rips at their relationship. The book is sometimes brutal, sometimes tragic, but the mesmerizing writing brings into clarity so beautifully the people, the culture, the life of Viet Nam.

The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
This book was initially recommended to me by my therapist. Five years later, I finally read it. While it is not a lyrically well-written book, I feel the agreements Ruiz presents are worth considering and exploring, and if it makes sense, incorporating into your everyday life. The lessons are purposeful. Give it a chance. Try it.

There are many books that should be shared, read and treasured. I chose these six books for a variety of reasons. But, to me, they all shed light onto the darkness of life, whether it's about love, loss, war, peace, revenge, resistance, identity, or self-improvement. In doing so, each one, in their own way, shed light into and about our world.

I look forward to your suggestions and recommendations, as well as, sharing more great books within Cuong's Book Club. Read well!

Sunday, February 29, 2004

ALL FLORIDA'S FAULT...

Dear Florida:

I like you because Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin live there. I like you because you make fresh-squeezed orange juice. When I visited you in November, I didn't see Capriati, Seles, Roddick, Safin or fresh-squeezed orange juice trees. So, now I dislike you.

We are in the midst of war, recession and chaos. But because of you, our leadership is worried about profanity and nudity. I am concerned about a country that is perfectly capable of and willing to kill unseen sons and daughters in war, teach children to carry weapons, yet feel a large disdain for nudity and the use of profanity. Profanity and nudity aren't indecent, war is.

I am digressing, however, everyone must read this article posted on CNN's International Edition site about the Bush adminstration's distortions of scientific research in order to advance their political agenda. So disturbing.

Florida, you must make up for the mess we're in. So, everyone in Florida, please go out and vote!

Thursday, February 19, 2004

CUONG'S SURVIVAL GUIDE: TEMPING

These days, the dot-comers of the late 90s are now the lowest of the low in the workplace: the temps. Yes, temps have replaced the company drunk and lowly interns as the most pathetic subset of a company. Face it, if you're not temping, you know someone who is. Though it's hard to figure out how someone cannot find a job, sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbles...

But let's face it, temping is dirty, crappy, grunt work. But for all the working temps out there, stop throwing darts at your "co-workers" and wonder how those dumbasses have jobs and you don't. In the first Cuong's Survival Guide, here are several suggestions to deal with the hell that is temp-dom.

Never, Ever Stress
One of the biggest advantages of being a temp is that you're, well, temporary. So, you won't be held accountable for your mistakes. And by the time they find your mistakes you'll be long gone. So, work like the lazy half-ass you are and don't even stress attention to detail, accuracy, and accountability.

Be Productive
Nobody wants to hire anyone who does nothing. So, use temping to work on resume, job hunt or writing. Here's what you do: Maximize your "work-related document" to the entire size of the computer. Open your personal file to half the size of the screen and move it to the bottom half. When someone comes click on the "work" document and they'll never see your real work.

Locate Office Floor Plan
It's important to know your company's floor plan in order to locate the nearest emergency exits and bathrooms. But also, locate the best entry-route for when you're late and find the office supply room. I find that the supply room is a great way to replenish supplies for my home office. How can you argue with a great deal?

Find Alone Time
Sure, taking breaks can help break the montomony of work, but I find it helpful to take longer breaks in order to rejuvenate. When you need it, go to the bathroom stall, lay down a seat protector and have a seat. Relax. No one will bother you there. I find my time there to be peaceful and cathartic.

Sure, temping is hell. But these days, work is work. While it's tough and thankless, I hope these suggestions will help you make the world of temping fun, prosperous and even profitable. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

FATHER'S DUTIES

"...When I consider him, I see how my [immigrant] father had to retool his life to the ambitions his meager knowledge of the language and culture would allow, invent again the man he wanted to be. He came to know that the sky was never the limit..."
-- Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker
      His way was with silence. His words never spoke to us the way his silence did. Every day, on the walk home from our grandparent’s house, it was the same way. He was the same way: lips pressed, eyes bereft, and body barely moving. Even as we followed him, we saw his blank stare into the nothingness ahead and heard his lost words. We knew what it meant, his wordlessness always meant the same thing. What was hinted was always clear.
      We traced his steps, our arms quietly, unmovingly close to our bodies; not making a single sound, like we knew we should. His sons' homework waved in the wind and his daughter twisted a Rose Petal cut-out in her hands. He led us through the dirt alley to our small home. When he unlocked the door, he stood there, waited for his children to enter. We entered quietly, one by one, our arms still by our sides. He followed us in, closed the door behind him and twisted it lock.
      My brother and sister ran to the TV and turned it on. As the gray fuzz turned into color pictures, they stumbled backwards onto our sofa. My father disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned, he stood next to the TV, under the doorframe of the kitchen and living room. And what he was without, he made up in presence. His simple stance drowned out our world of TV and all that was in front of us was our father. In his right hand he gripped the feather-end of the feather duster. His hand wrapped around the feathers and slightly bounced the bamboo off his left hand. We looked up at the shadow that towered over us.
      "Turn off the TV," he said.
      Even right in front of him, he never saw us. And he revealed nothing with his eyes or face. It was what gave his words so much power. We looked at each other, his silence silenced us. I walked toward the TV and turned it off.
      "Lay down on the floor," he ordered.
      We wandered slowly to the middle of the living room and laid down, our faces buried in the carpet. Three bodies spread out in front of our father's feet. I didn't hear him take the feather duster back, but I heard it whipping through the air and knew it was coming down...
      Over and over again, the air whipped and roared. And each time, the warning was worse than the pain. Flesh was broken, anger released...
      When he finished what he started, my father left quietly. We all knew it was over and slowly crept up. My brother sat up, his hands grabbing the carpet, trying to rip it out. My sister rose, her body slouched and arms in between her legs. The Rose Petal cut-out crumpled in her little fingers.
      We sat there crying our anger out. The gray television screen stared at us. In the reflection we saw each other cry. We stared. Our tears slowly rescinded into quiet breaths. Our tears dried. So, I turned on the TV again and we all sat back on the sofa: myself, my brother and my sister. Through our young eyes, we escaped and forgot.
      "Drink your milk," my father announced from the kitchen.
      We walked into the kitchen to find our usual cups of milk on the small table. An orange cup in each of our hands, we drank our daily dose of milk and showed our father that we were good by quickly finishing it. We presented him our empty cups proudly. He nodded.
      When Mom comes home from work we'll tell her how quickly we finished our milk, we told him. Again, he nodded. His work was not done, he was still cleaning the rice for dinner. And he had the cups to wash. We returned back to our TV. It made us forget.
      "Cuong, come in and take your bath," my father called from the bathroom.
      I entered the bathroom and saw my father's hand under the running water, making sure the water wasn't too hot or too cold. I climbed into the tub. I watched my father as he washed me with his hands, cleaning with warm water.
      "You see," he said, staring at my burning red marks, "you're so disobedient."
      I didn't say anything.
      "Come here at look at your brother's disobedience," he ordered.
      My brother and sister entered the bathroom and he made me turn around so they could see all the red marks on my behind. They looked at the marks as if they didn't know what had happened. And when he told them they could leave, they walked outside to the sound of the TV. With a towel, my father gently dried me and handed me a small yellow comb.
      "Here, comb your hair," he said.
      As he pushed the door open, I walked through. He stood there in the doorway and reminded my brother and sister that he was their father.
      "Did you two see that? It's what happens to you when you're disobedient," he told them.
      They knew because they had the same red marks as I did. We were too young to understand it all; I was six, my brother was five, and my sister was four. What we understood at that age was our father's anger, what he was to us. In his eyes, we saw this: the father who picked us up from Grandmother's house after school, the father who bathed us, the father who cooked for us, the father who took care of us until our mother returned home from work... Until she returned from work. This was what we knew.

***
      We laugh about it now.
      "Remember when Dad slapped you and you went" - my sister jerks her head abruptly to one side - "ugh!" She laughs.
      "Shut up!" I grin.
      "I remember, it was in Chinatown and you cried," my brother smiles.
      "It was a long time ago," I say, now swallowing their words down my throat. "A long time ago."

Friday, February 06, 2004

WARRIORS OF PEACE

"The draft law commands that we shall not aid, abet or counsel men to refuse the draft. But...when young men refuse to allow their conscience to be violated by an unjust war and a criminal war, then it is necessary for their elders...to make clear their commitment, in conscience, to aid, abet and counsel them against conscription."
-- Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night
War is enmeshed in nationalism and heroism. It is spurred on by patriotic fervor, by righteousness of the cause, even by the ostentatious use of the flag. In doing so, it casts opponents of war, purveyors of peace, as un-American and un-courageous. But I think it's very nationalist and heroic, as much so as the fever of war, to oppose war. For, to risk jail, to risk alienation, to risk life for your ideas and belief is very American.

I don't know war first-hand. Though, I've heard about it from my mother and aunts and uncles who lived through Viet Nam's tumultuous past. And remarkably, they survived. But war is a marked experience beyond human comprehension. Only those who live through it may be able to comprehend its terror, its depravity, its loss.

Lately, war has been on my mind. Perhaps the context of our current war on Iraq has compelled me to question the idea of war, the idea of peace. Also, I recently read two books that question ideas of war and peace.

Norman Mailer, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Armies of the Night, traces three days in 1967 leading up to an anti-war demonstration in Washington D.C. Mailer writes about writing, the true motivation of the Viet Nam War, and about himself. But within his diatribes, Mailer provokes engaging questions about war and our place in seeking peace. The revolutions in the '60s were, well, revolutionary. In the context of the time, Mailer poignantly portrays the "cowardly" draft dodgers as men who chose "not to violate their conscience." In a way, re-writing history and re-articulating nationalism. And re-articulating ideas of war and peace.

In National Book Award-winning author Maxine Hong Kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace, Kingston writes about a sanctuary of peace that existed in Hawai'i during the Viet Nam War. In her book, part fiction, part memoir, Kingston writes about warriors of war who sought shelter in a sanctuary of peace, risking imprisonment and alienation from their families, rather than participate in an unjust war. The idea of a sanctuary of peace is just interesting and thought-provoking. She also re-articulates the idea of war as peace. That we should be warriors of peace.

There are several other books I have to mention that shed light on war/peace. Denise Chong's The Girl in the Picture recounts the life of Kim Phuc, the girl in the famous picture running naked after being napalmed. Phuc survived the encounter, and her picture helped to galvanized Americans towards peace. I think the story of Kim Phuc and her will to survive is remarkable. John W. Dower's War Without Mercy is a fascinating account of World War II. Dower talks about the de-humanizing and propaganda aspect of the war that makes you seriously consider the question of race and politics and war. I have no doubt there are other note-worthy books on peace, but those are my suggestions. Read well!

For me, books help shed light onto darkness, this time, on war, on peace and on our propaganda-induced mass media. And, even though I have not lived through war, I know this: when a war prematurely extinguishes the life of a child, a mother, a father, a daughter, or a son, then that war is wrong.

Friday, January 23, 2004

THE YEAR OF THE MONKEY

Yesterday, January 22, ushered in Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey, 4701.

Growing up, Chinese New Year was the only holiday that meant something to us. In my earliest memories, I recall a Chinese New Year celebration at my grandparent's house, several months after our arrival in our new homeland. It was 1982. In a small rented house on Lincoln Avenue. I remember the fading images of the feast of food on the table: noodles, rice, ducks, chickens, egg rolls, and shrimps. Yummy! My grandfather was there. My grandmother cooked. My parents were happy. My aunts were young. My siblings little. It was three generations of family around the dinner table. And of course, the red envelopes full of money. (But it really wasn't full of money). That night, we marked the beginning of our first year in America with food, laughs, stories, red envelopes, utterly in awe for the world around us. It was a night that should have been capture in a photograph. But it wasn't...

But here is my picture: an immigrant family, locked together by the soil of a lost homeland and the dreams for a better life, drunk with joy and laughter for the unbelievable moment in front of them. The house was small, the furniture was rescued from the street, our clothes were cheap. But the camera would forgive all that. Instead, what it would capture is simple happiness. For, at the moment, there was no lacking for a want. For a family that, a year earlier, had drifted to sea, who had no home, who lived in refugee camps, who struggled between life and death in the dark waters, everything was suddenly there. Everything was okay. In my picture, the camera would capture a family in the beginning of many new beginnings. It would capture it all.

That night seems so long ago. The Chinese (and I am Chinese) believed that the beginning of the year was an opportunity to usher in happiness. When I think of it now, my parents were always happy around that time. I can still see their smiles. I think they really believed that it was a new opportunity to create happiness, to create richness in life. I suppose, they were optimists that way.

Wednesday night, we had a small feast. Just my parents and brother. My sister couldn't make it. It was nice. But it's not the same now. People have gone, others moved on. But it's the only holiday we spend as a family because it still means something to my parents. And cause it means something to us too...

Each year, I'm reminded that I'm lucky, that I have so much. That, like my parents, I believe in the endless possibilities of life...

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

THE SECRET WORLD OF ASIANS

"As a Chinese boy in an American world, I was accustomed to facades."
-- Eric Liu, The Accidental Asian
The idea of an American idenity used to equate to whiteness. For a time, if you were black, you weren't American. And more recently, if you were yellow, you weren't American either. Since then, the ideology of what it means to be "American" has shifted to include blacks, yellows and greens. Hey, do I look American to you?

I remember trying to rip the skin off my arm. Once. It was dark and I was in some kind of rage. But that rage continued more omninously and covertly in my head. Growing up in Los Angeles in the '80s, I was made keenly aware that I was a nip and taunted for being Chinese. There wasn't just one incident. And it wasn't that simplistic. But I did strive to be white. Maybe it was American-ness I wanted, but it was whiteness that I was after. If other Asians were quiet, I was going to be loud. If other Asians were good at math, I was going to be good at something else. If I listen closley, I can still hear those voices today. But in my effort to distill, combat, defy the stereotypes of Asian-ness, I unwittingly went along with the perception and became the perpetuator of stereotypes of my own race.

Somewhere between Monterey Park and Berkeley, I found the land of the Asians. Again, it's another huge simplification of things. But... Looking back, I realized that I didn't want to be known primarily for being Asian. Nobody wants that. So we do things to try get over that "slash," to compensate for that dark mark. Recently, a friend said he worked out more because he's Asian. I'm not saying who, but when he said that, I initially scoffed. But maybe he has something, maybe we, as Asians, are still trying to overcompensate for our apparent yellowness because we know inside, no matter what we've accomplished or how well we speak English, that our skins give us away. Our skin betrays our American-ness...

So, do I look American to you?

Saturday, January 10, 2004

SOME THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT ME, AND SOME YOU DON'T WANNA KNOW...

• I don't always act like it, but I feel fortunate for the people and experiences in my life. It is a good life.
• I like to look at myself in the mirror. A lot. Sometimes I pose, sometimes I tell myself, "I'm beautiful," sometimes I say, "Ughh..."
• In the second grade, when I was partnered with Maggie Bolivar for a dance performance, she looked at me and said, "Why do I have to be stuck with you nip?" I can still hear that smirk...
• I like to lie sometimes. Just about the little things though.
• Sometimes I think I'm Asian, other times I think I'm American. Sometimes, I'm not sure if I'm Asian or American or Asian American.
• I definitely believe in revenge!
• My father used to beat his children. It went on for years. I think I'm still scarred from that. Still...
• I cheat in Uno sometimes, but not as much as people think I do.
• Sometimes I worry that I have no talent, that I'm not going to make anything of myself. Maybe I should give up my dreams.
• Yummy is everything. I love food. I love to eat. I love buffets.
• I personalize more than I should, more than I want to, despite telling people they shouldn't personalize things.
• Once when I was drunk, I jerked off in a bathroom urinal, then moved to the stall to, well, finish...
• I know I make horrible first-impressions. I also know it's my responsibility.
• Sometimes, I'm pretty embarrassed by the stupid crap that comes out of my mouth.
• I don't think I'm as gracious at forgiving as I want to be. I think I hold things in. But I know better than that...
• When I was in my late teens, I once called a phone sex hotline. I was asked what I liked. I simply replied, "Volleyball, tennis and writing."
• I want to make a difference in life. I want to help my communities. I do want to help others.
• I'm a great kisser. Really.
• I don't think I'm a generous person.
• I am passionate about advocating social and political issues affecting Asian Americans.
• Sometimes I think I have a small penis. But most of the time, I really like it.
• I am scared that I'm not as smart as I used to be.
• Despite belief to the contrary, I really do believe that I am a people person. I do...
• Sometimes, I really hate myself.
• When I really don't have to, I don't shower. (I know, it's gross).
• Right now, I think I am full of shit.
• I am learning to be a better person: to be impeccable with my words and my actions. It's a great lesson...