Diverging From Expectations

I ran into an old acquaintance/friend on campus today. It was very random, considering that she’s not a student at the university. I hadn’t seen her since I graduated from high school about ten years ago.

In the Chinese-American world in which my friend and I grew up, it was expected for us to do well (i.e., get straight A’s) in high school, attend a prestigious university (Ivy League or better), and get a well respected, high paying job right out of school so our parents can brag about us to the rest of the Chinese-American community (a graduate degree from a prestigious university is optional only if there isn’t a company wanting to hire you before you even finish college).

Of course, neither of us lived up to these expectations, but my friend’s story is more interesting than mine. She had straight A’s in high school and was accepted to a very prestigious university but dropped out after a year for medical reasons. All her goals (projections of her parents’ goals for her) fell away. She spent many years soul searching before she eventually found Christianity. Her goal now is to be a missionary and someday return to college. Note that most Chinese people (including my friend’s parents) frown upon religious jobs, mostly because those jobs don’t make much money (relative to jobs in business, medicine, law, or engineering).

All these years later, she has mostly come to terms with how her life has turned out (I’m sure Christianity helped with that), but she still often feels ashamed that she didn’t live up to the expectations she grew up with.

It’s interesting how far our lives diverge from what we expect when we’re kids. While many of my friends my age now have Ph.D.’s, have high paying jobs, are buying houses, and/or are married with children, I don’t feel behind. Everyone’s path is different. I have my own timeline. I’ve learned and grown from every experience and every hardship. I wouldn’t change anything. I value where I am and what I do so much because of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Good times.

I like to think that everything happens for a reason. Maybe my “random” encounter with an old friend who lost her way was so that I could share what I’ve learned about life with her. Just a thought.

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Thank You Love

I’m currently immensely addicted to the Taiwanese soap opera 花樣少年少女 (also commonly known as the Taiwanese version of Hana Kimi). I actually watched the entire series last week (15 episodes, each over an hour long), and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack every chance I get. The show is so amazing, largely because I like the idea of the person you secretly love protecting you against all odds and secretly loving you back. It’s such a romantic concept, and I’m a hopeless romantic. Also, I love the main actors (they’re popular Taiwanese singers). Just watching this series makes me want to brush up on my Mandarin and visit Taiwan again!

If anyone’s interested, you can download the entire series subtitled in English from here. Awesome!

There’s a great song on the soundtrack that has beautiful lyrics. Actually, this describes multiple songs on the soundtrack, but in this case I’m referring to the song 謝謝愛 (Thank You Love) by Garden Sister (花園精靈). These are the lyrics (from Chinese Music Blog):

雨下好亂 半個夜晚 你不在身邊怎麼 晚安
yu xia hao luan; ban ge ye wan ni bu zai shen bian zen me wan an
The rain is falling heavily into the middle of the night; I cannot sleep as you’re not by my side

天好藍 要和你一起看
tian hao lan yao he ni yi qi kan
I want to watch the clear blue sky with you

起風時由你來温暖
qi feng shi you ni lai wen nuan
You are the one who gives me warmth when a wind blows over

心事簡單 一句說完
xin shi jian dan yi ju shuo wan
feelings from my heart are so simple that a simple sentence says all

要我們永遠不會 分開
yao wo men yong yuan bu hui fen kai
wanting us to never separate

有眼淚 也因為你燦爛
you yan lei; ye yin wei ni can lan
tears are present but they glisten for you

你微笑因為我盛開
ni wei xiao yin wei wo sheng kai
Your smile is because of me

要謝謝愛讓你 在我身邊守護我的未來
yao xie xie ai, rang ni zai wo shen bian shou hu wo de wei lai
I thank love for letting you stay by me and guard my future

有多少美麗奇跡 你手心里全都記载 好期待
you duo shao mei li qi ji ni shou xin li quan dou ji zai, hao qi dai
how many beautiful miracles, in the palm of your hand is where they are kept

要謝謝愛讓我 學會寬容學會體諒 關懷
yao xie xie ai, rang wo xue hui kuan rong, xue hui ti liang guan huai
I thank you for letting me learn generosity, respect and care

像陽光陪着大海 是平靜還是澎湃 都是愛
xiang yang guang pei zhe da hai shi ping jing hai shi peng pai dou shi ai
similar to how the sun will accompany the sea, whether it is calm or rough, it is still love

Finally, here’s a YouTube link to let you hear the song. Enjoy!

The Comfortable Couple

Yesterday, I attended an all-day celebration for my uncle’s 70th birthday. The festivities included an all-you-can-eat brunch (with free champagne!) at a nice (American) restaurant on a hill overlooking the city and a traditional 12-course Chinese banquet for dinner. My uncle is known by his friends and family as a very kind and generous philanthropist, so it’s an honor to be related to him (though only by law, not blood).

During the brunch, I sat across from a Chinese woman and a Caucasian woman who were obviously a couple (I later found out that the Chinese woman is a close family friend of my uncle’s). I immediately became fascinated by them. I generally have an interest in getting to know and understanding other gay people, especially gay couples. This couple was particularly interesting to me because they were so comfortable at a (traditional) Chinese family function.

I waited until the end of brunch to approach the Caucasian woman and get to know her a little. The couple are in their 40s (I think), so I’m sure their experiences of coming out and dealing with tolerance/intolerance in society must be very different from my own. I only talked to her briefly (I didn’t get a chance to talk to her more during the evening), but I felt it was important for me to talk to her.

I may not have received any sage advice from the couple, but seeing them at an event like this gave me hope that perhaps one day I will be comfortable with myself enough to bring my eventual boyfriend (God willing) to meet my family too.

Discussing Proposition 8 With My Dad

My parents like to watch TV during dinner. Last night, we were watching the Chinese news, and a segment came on about the Chinese efforts to promote Yes on 8. I figured that was a good time to open up a discussion on Proposition 8 with my parents.

My mom isn’t very political (unless it’s Taiwanese politics, in which case she gets all riled up), so I asked my dad about what he thought. He said that he believes in traditional marriage and that the alternative is “weird,” so he was going to vote for the ban on gay marriage.

When my dad asked what I was going to vote, I told him that I would vote No on 8, because what does one couple’s marriage have anything to do with anyone else’s marriage? I also noted that “tradition” can change over time because of changes in society.

When the US was first created, only white males could vote. Black people were property. Over the years, black people became free and were given the right to vote (but still were segregated for another 100 years). Women were given the right to vote (but are still to this day often paid less in the workplace for the same job that men do). Yes, the right to vote is somewhat different than the right to marry, but my point is that tradition is not necessarily static. After all, interracial marriage was banned until 1967.

(Side note) In typing that last paragraph, I noticed that I wrote “were given the right to vote.” So, is voting (and marriage) a “right” if it has to be “given” to people?

Anyway. The conversation ended pretty quickly after that (agree to disagree), dinner finished, and I went back to listening to the Savage Love Podcast (also called the Savage Lovecast), which I newly discovered yesterday. Amazing podcast, by the way; I think I’m in love with Dan Savage.

One of the callers on a recent podcast was from an 18 year old guy who was contemplating coming out to his extended family as a way of saying “I’m gay” and “vote No on Prop 8” at the same time. Dan Savage’s advice was to bite the bullet and just do it. Not only will it be liberating to come out, but it might also mean a few more votes against Proposition 8.

Nervous out of my mind but drawing courage and inspiration from the Savage Lovecast caller, I approached my dad in the kitchen while he was washing the dishes and said “Would it change your mind about Proposition 8 if it meant that I couldn’t get married?”

At first, my dad didn’t really understand what I meant. I looked straight at him, waiting for him to understand. My mom came in and talked about something completely unrelated. I asked her what she felt about Proposition 8, and she said she didn’t know anything about it; she usually just votes for whatever my dad does.

After my mom walked into the other room, there was an awkward moment with my dad (or at least it was awkward for me). Then I asked if he understood what I had said. He said he did, but I’m not going to get married now anyway. He said “You can’t even support yourself, how do you expect to get married?”

I said that that wasn’t my point, and he said that I’m certainly not going to get married to a MAN (his inflection). If I want to marry a woman, it’s okay. I said it doesn’t really work that way, but then he just went back to talking about how I don’t have a decent job and can’t support myself, so how can I think about marriage. He started rattling off expenses that I can’t afford with my current salary (rent, car insurance, gas, food, etc.).

There was no arguing with him. My dad is probably the most stubborn person I’ve ever met. He changed the subject, and there was no going back. I gave up and walked off.

This was the second time that I tried to come out to my parents. The first time was in March of 2002 when I told them over the phone. They didn’t believe me, saying I was too young, I hadn’t met the right girl, it’s just a phase, etc. We haven’t talked about it since. My parents are traditional Chinese parents, where they completely ignore anything remotely shameful and only talk about the things that make the family sound good.

So, in the end, I tried to come out to my dad, and it didn’t really work. My coming out stories are never that exciting. Chances are, we’ll never talk about this again. And chances are I didn’t change his vote either.

This makes me wonder if I ever actually need to tell my parents that I’m gay. I don’t think they’ll ever approve or even really understand it. They’ll continue to ignore or sidestep the situation. But so what? I think I’ve reached a point where I don’t really care if my parents accept it or not. If their opinion on this doesn’t matter, why should I worry about what they think? Do I even need to continue trying to come out to them?

My Mom’s Mom

Last Friday was the Qingming Festival (清明節). On that day, Chinese families are supposed to honor their ancestors by visiting the family graves and cleaning the gravestones. I was in Las Vegas last Friday, and my mom was on a business trip, so we postponed going to my grandmother’s grave until today. I hadn’t visited my grandmother’s grave in many years (probably not since I went to college), so my memories of going were distant yet familiar.

My grandmother (my mom’s mom) actually died two years before I was born. My brother was two years old when she died. My sister was the only one of us who had any extended amount of time with her. In fact, my grandmother moved from Taiwan to the US in order to help my mom take care of my sister when she was born.

After my grandmother moved to the US, she ran the family business, a fish and chips restaurant. She was killed by someone who tried to rob the restaurant. She was 52. My mom used to tell me stories about how amazing her mom was. How kind and giving she was. How smart she was, even without much schooling. How life would be so different if she was still with us.

My parents and I met my sister and her boyfriend at the cemetery. We were only at my grandmother’s grave for a few minutes (it felt like a formality), but I tried to remember some of the things my mom said about her. I tried to picture the photographs I’ve seen of her, to envision the woman who raised my mom. In the end, it felt like when I visited my aunt’s grave recently.

Remembering A Stranger

My parents and I went to a cemetery today. We went to remember my aunt (my dad’s sister) who passed away 16 years ago. Her husband (my uncle) organizes a gathering every year, but I had never attended until today. In fact, I had never been to my aunt’s grave until today.

Once all the attendees arrived, my uncle lit some Chinese incense and laid out some of my aunt’s favorite foods. We all did some bowing in front of the grave, and then my uncle burned some fake money and paper. The fake money represents sending my aunt money so she can buy whatever she wants. The paper represents sending my aunt cloth so she can make her own clothes.

Even though my aunt passed away after I was born, I have no memory of her at all. The only interaction we had was when I was a baby. It’s a weird feeling to stand in front of the grave of a relative, trying to remember something about her. I’ve never even seen a picture of her.