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My Asian Mom

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Asian mom 1

No mother is perfect. The fierce love and care a mother gives, especially an Asian mother in the midst of American culture, can be cause for conflicts with her American-raised children. “Are you my mother?” the prologue that starts the My Asian Mom, a series of “tug of wars” between “Asian mothers” and their children, reveals the love and resentment between them.

This is the second year that I’ve attended the show “My Asian Mom.” Despite certain anticipation of the “typical” conflicts between Asian mothers and their children, which I can testify with my own experience, these episodes present issues that are familiar yet with a personal touch and refreshing look. Via laughter, one can resonate, to different levels according to their connection or understanding of the Asian culture.

I laughed when a Chinese “son” can no longer stand the plastic covers on sofas, tables, and even a lamp shade that his mother places. He finally rips them off during a visit home from college, creating havoc. Perhaps, it’s because of the heavy dust in the air that so many Chinese families cover their furniture with plastics in China; or perhaps it’s out of frugality so the furniture can be preserved forever, in a brand new shape when the cover is lifted; or perhaps out of convenience for cleaning. Whatever the reason, despite the discomfort (the sofa and chair slippery) and unappealing sight (the fine furniture appear cheap), the customs get carried over to the U.S. I have seen them in more than one Chinese home over the years. But the son in the play eventually comes to appreciate his mother’s intention.

Asian mom 2Other episodes show different aspects of confrontations between Asian mother and her son/daughter, including an arranged marriage that aims to build family alliance, a look into why we mistreat “our Korean mothers,” and in many cases, reconciliations in the end between mothers and their Americanized children. The entire show is consisted of eight unrelated stories from different Asian backgrounds. Quite entertaining and refreshing.

The performance, with Cary Shoda as curator and lead director, and Hope Kim and Joe Yao as producers, will open for one more weekend, from Friday, May 30 through Sunday, June 1 at the Chicago Dramatists theatre. Check it out. You won’t regret. Visit a-stw.org for more information.

By Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film is on PBS nationwide in May 2014. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com.

 

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Reading Tiger Mother’s “Hymn”

Monday, March 7th, 2011

By Jian Ping

My friend Jing lent me her copy of Amy Chua’s book. She was appalled and furious about Chua’s claim of her extreme measures of parenting as “Chinese” and wanted to hear my opinion.

Coincidentally, the day I finished reading Chua’s book, the Chicago Tribune featured stories of local high school students in an article titled “How 3 students succeeded, without ‘Tiger Moms’”.  The Asian mother in the feature, Ms. Leung, said she was reading Chua’s book. “It’s embarrassing me,” she said. Leung’s daughter plays piano and recently earned perfect scores in her ACT and SAT tests. “That lady (Chua) is a little crazy,” Leung said.

I must say Leung’s statements resonate with mine.

When I first heard Jing’s comments, I came to Chua’s defense. I had not read Chua’s book, but I had read the excerpts released in Wall Street Journal. I told Jing that I liked Chua’s writing—concise, simple, and impactful, and despite the serious tone and harsh measure, it has a touch of humor.

“Chua is exaggerating at her own expenses and is being playful in getting her message crossed,” I told Jing.

I held the notion a third of the way reading Chua’s book. Then it started to bother me, although I must say, as a mother, Chua couldn’t be more dedicated and committed—the amount of time she carved out of her schedule to be with children, albeit to drill them in their practices on piano or violin, was admirable.

The more I read the book, however, the more horrified I became—Chua appeared dead serious about her extreme approaches and spared nothing at achieving the goals she set for her children. She raised the question that others, including her children, asked her: “Is she doing it for herself or for her children?” Her action spoke louder than her words, I think.

 When I put down the book at the end, the words “crazy” “control freak” came to my mind. I wonder what her children will become when they are out of school, out of college, to face the reality of life—when success is not defined by scores or rankings, and as a member of society, we should each strive to a be constructive contributor, be balanced and happy. It’s not about constantly struggling to get ahead of others.

Sun Yunxiao, Deputy Director of the China Youth and Children Research Center, called parents not to “blindly follow Chua, whose many thoughts and actions are wrong.”

It is true that many Chinese parents are strict with their children and cherish high expectations for them. But among all the Chinese I know—being a Chinese myself, I know many, including quite a few women friends who are mothers—I haven’t encounter a single one who takes Chua’s extreme parenting methods in raising their children.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.  Visit www.mulberrychild.com, or www.moraquest.com for more information. Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature length documentary film by award winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Parenting

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

By Jian Ping

Amy Chua’s recent Wall Street Journal article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” created a lot of controversy. The day it appeared in the paper, I received two emails from my Chinese friends, with one telling me his son called Chua “a monster,” and the other, a mother, saying she was enraged that Chua calling her “extreme disciplines and demands” in bringing up her children the “Chinese way.”

“Where is the feeling of love?” my friend asked.

I was also astonished, despite my understanding to a certain extend. Many Chinese parents are strict with their children and push them hard to realize the parents’ high expectations. I must say I was no exception. However, even I found Chua’s behavior disconcerting.  

There are traditions in different cultures when it comes to educate the young. In the Chinese culture, since our ancient sage Confucius’ time, education has been highly valued and emphasized. But the education was not just academic studies—it has always included the components of self cultivation—including virtues, morals, love, and respect.

“I grew up in China,” my girlfriend Jing said. “My mother never pushed me in my studies when I was young. If anything, she was always worried that too much study would ruin my eye sight. She kept reminding me to take breaks.”

Another Chinese, a father in this case, made the comment to me: “She (Chua) is making a more stereotypical comparison between Chinese and Western parenting. In my opinion, the goal of parenting is not to produce winners—there can only be so many winners, but to nurture individuals who are contributors to society and live a happy life while doing it.”

These are views of Chinese parents, too. More balanced, in my opinion.

Parenting is a complicated task to which there is no preparation. It is a privilege, a blessing, and a challenge. No matter a Westerner or an Asian, we all cherish aspirations for our children. The key is to learn parenting in a way that is loving and nurturing.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com for more information. Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Asian Trip (6)

Monday, November 15th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Enjoy a hearty meal with Tao, Yan and Mom

We arrived at Changchun about 7 P.M. My sister Yan and her son Tao were waiting for us at the train station. Tao had bought a Volkswagen earlier in the year and had been providing generous transport services to our extended families in Changchun. This evening, he was the designated driver again.

A table of food was waiting for us when we opened the door to Mother’s apartment. I was so happy to see Mother as energetic and high spirited as I left her in May. She, however, frowned at me as she saw me limping.

“You should have waited to come back until your knee is healed,” she said.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” I said. “We have a family doctor.”

It turned out Mother was right. The infection on my knee got worse. Still, I didn’t take it seriously. Limping around, I went to the “Blind Men’s Massage Parlor” the next day and bought a 20-visit massage pass. A full body massage cost 40 Yuan, about US$6, and I couldn’t pass up the treat. In fact, when I fell badly off my bike in Chicago, I was on my way to a gym for a massage. I was in a hurry and fell at a high speed two blocks from my destination. Now, as always

Yan is getting ready for a massage

when in Changchun, I urged my sisters to go with me for massage. My sister Ping and her husband Zhicheng also came from Shenyang. We went to the parlor together and chatted away while enjoying the treat.  In a neighborhood massage place like the one we went to that was run by four blind men, each room had three or four beds and the masseurs worked on their fully-clothed clients, using a small towel over the areas they worked on. They were thorough and strong. Despite the simple setting and condition, the deep tissue massage was quite good!

On the 3rd day I was home, Wen became more concerned about my infected knee and took me to the hospital she worked at. I didn’t argue—I was in pain and would travel again soon. The doctor put me on an antibiotic IV injection right away. For the next six days, I received two IV injections every day. Wen played doctor and nurse at the same time.

“You know you are not young anymore,” Wen said, struggling to put the thin needle into a blood vessel on the back of my left hand. “I don’t think you should ride your bike anymore.”

A sweet moment with Wen, Yan and Mom

“I promise I’ll be more careful,” I said. I meant it. But I didn’t tell her that over the summer, I rode my bike on the trail along Lake Michigan in Chicago for nearly 20 miles four or five times a week. I loved it and would definitely continue to do so.

Because of my knee, I spent most of the time with Mother at home. I had a great time chatting, playing mahjong, or watching television with her and my sisters. Over the last two decades, I had visited them two or three times each year, but seldom stayed for more than 3 days each time. This time, I stayed for 10 days, a record.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentray film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

Filming Mulberry Child in China (final)

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

By Jian Ping

The time we spent in Baicheng, the small town where I grew up, was the most difficult.

The week before our arrival, my sister Yan had made a special trip to Baicheng, checking out the sites we needed to film and selecting a hotel (after visiting most of the reputable hotels in town) for us. Minutes after we checked into the hotel, Susan and Quyen started coughing, and my eyes began tearing up—I had been coughing all along because of a cold. There was no non-smoking room in the hotel and the chemicals used in the construction (it was a newer hotel) lingered in the rooms and hallways. Susan, who had athma, took out her inhaler immediately.

Mushroom for Hot Pot

We started working early the next day. The moment we were outdoor, the sand and dust swirled up by the strong wind whipped at us. Quyen had to replace her contact lens with her regular glasses. Memories of fighting against the wind as a child flashed back—I used to use a thin scarf to wrap around my head to prevent sand from getting into my eyes. I looked around and saw one girl wearing a silk scarf in the same manner.  

“We have two winds here each year,” Yan said to Susan. “Each lasts for six months.”

Susan laughed despite herself.   

We filmed late into the night that day, and treated ourselves to a good hot pot dinner, with a variety of green vegetables, mushroom and two large plates of thinly sliced beef.

We filmed two more days in Baicheng and Changchun and received warm reception and help from many locals. A number of incidents worked out so well that we couldn’t have planned better! Both Susan and Quyen were touched by the openness and friendliness of the people we met and filmed.

“This trip has changed my view on China,” Susan said. “I was dumb to believe in the biased opinions about China before.”

I was very happy about the result of our trip!

Yan, Wen and me play mahjong with Mother

I stayed with my mother for one more day after the departure of the crew. My mother loved playing mahjong and usually, there were not enough people to set up the game. That evening, my sisters and I played with her. She was as quick and sharp as ever before. I made her laugh throughout the evening by making faces and desperate gestures—I lost nearly all my chips to her.

It was an evening of fun and joy with family that I knew I would relish for a long time.

To prevent Mother from feeling sad about my departure, I promised her that I would visit her again before the end of the year.

I will.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

FOR LACK OF THE MUSIC GENE

Friday, November 13th, 2009

by Nancy Werking Poling

Daddy leaned back in his easy chair, the worry lines disappearing from his face. It was the happiest I ever saw him: evenings when my mother played the piano. She’d run her fingers up and down the keyboard, smoothly modulating from “Some Enchanted Evening” to “I love you truly” to “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”
Her Sunday audience was equally appreciative. My, how she could pound out
“Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross.”
From the time I was born it was a forgone conclusion that I’d inherited Mom’s musical genes. And she made sure there was ample opportunity for me to develop any musical talent I may have had. Our family lived in a two-bedroom cinder block house in Tampa, later Orlando, Florida. Our main dinner courses often consisted of meatloaf or Spam. Yet from her meager household budget Mom managed to set aside funds for music lessons.
It wasn’t that I disliked practicing; I was indifferent. Dutifully, my feet dangling over the piano bench, I’d play “Country Gardens” over and over, never committed to perfection but to getting the job done so I could go out and play with my friends. During my lessons Mrs. Haywood would inevitably say through gritted teeth, “In four-four time, Nancy! A quarter note gets one beat!”
Recognizing that I wasn’t piano material, Mom signed me up for violin lessons at my elementary school. Week after week I sat among a row of children, our violins tucked under our chins squawking “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Several months of my practicing at home convinced Mom I wasn’t violin material either.
But she didn’t give up. When I was in fifth grade, she bought me a marimba. Maybe she assumed that since I lacked the fine motor skills necessary for the piano or violin, I might be able to hammer out a tune. But the marimba isn’t a suitable instrument for the rhythmically challenged.
In junior high I signed up for band. I liked the idea of wearing the red and white uniform in parades. When the director, Mr. Baird, asked what instrument I played, I told him the marimba. He decided that qualified me for the rhythm section, specifically for the glockenspiel. Good news for a thirteen-year-old girl, as the drummers were all boys.
One day, while planning spring concerts, Mr. Baird came across a piece for orchestra with a marimba solo. He asked me to perform.
Of course I couldn’t carry the marimba to school on the bus, and Daddy drove our only car to work every day. So I practiced on my own at home, never with the band.
The day of the concert arrived. After a Sousa march it was my turn. Mr. Baird placed a microphone in front of the marimba. The band played its introduction.
I dove in, hammering with four mallets, going up and down that wooden keyboard, paying little attention to whether the score called for a whole or half note, a quarter note or an eighth. No matter how fast Mr. Baird waved his baton, the band couldn’t keep up with me.
One would assume this humiliating experience would mark the end of my musical performances. Not so. When Agnes Brown, a wiry middle-aged woman, decided to share her own talents with senior citizens, she thought some “young blood” was needed too. She offered me five dollars a performance to play my marimba.
Agnes Brown’s own talent was unique. She played a Theremin, a precursor of the synthesizer. From outward appearances, it was merely two metal antennas standing about a foot apart. The location of the performer’s hands moving up and down the space between the posts determined the tone, allowing her to create a melody without touching anything. The Theremin had an eerie sound, and I’ve since learned it was used for horror movies. But folks applauded her renditions of “Silver Hair Among the Gold,” “I Wonder Who’s Kissing her Now.” They loved me too: a short, plump, curly-haired thirteen-year-old banging out arrhythmic melodies.
I don’t know when my mother finally accepted the truth: that I had no musical drive. She never made any accusing remarks, just let it go. She did warn me though, more than once: “Someday you’ll regret you didn’t stick with the piano.”
In my more than sixty years, I have a lot of regrets. Giving up piano lessons hasn’t been one of them.
Except maybe during the last two years of my mother’s life. Probably because of strokes, Mom’s brain and hands couldn’t work together when she sat down at the piano. Her once agile fingers now stumbled through old hymns and popular songs of the forties.
Tearfully I watched her, wishing I could ease her frustration. I pictured myself at the piano while she sat in the easy chair, her head leaning back, eyes closed, a look of pleasure on her face. Oh, I thought, if I could only play for her. “Some Enchanted Evening” maybe, or “When the Saints Go Marching In.”