Archive for » November, 2010 «

I walked up to the customs agent’s counter in Beijing International airport, and mindlessly handed the customs agent my passport. He then mindlessly did his thing with my passport. It was supposed to be a quiet transaction, but he broke the silence when he looked up and asked if I still use my Chinese name in America. With a blank look on my face, I began to consider supplying him with an answer he might like to hear, but he didn’t give me enough time to think and he answered for me that that I must not use my Chinese name anymore. My passport was handed back to me with a smile. He then wished me a pleasant journey and pointed me to the three long security checkpoints reserved for US bound passengers. While standing in line, I thought about my long-lost Chinese name and how unattached I am to my Chinese name….

My Chinese name

Born in 1969 in communist China, my parents promptly decided to name me after something that had something to do with Chairman Mao. Not that they thought of him as a great leader, but rather out of fear. They picked a little known poem by Mao, which allowed them to show enough dedication to Mao without being reminded too much of him. My name was the first character of the three character title of this poem. (They actually needed to have three children to qualify for Mao’s poem, but they stopped at two. My sister’s name was the second character of the title, but her character is better known.) They clearly went too far with their quest, not only did most people fail to associate my name properly with Chairman Mao, but most people simply don’t know the character that is my name.

As a young child in China, it always surprised me if someone could pronounce my name correctly without being told first. I regarded anyone who knew my name as certainly the most learned and intelligent. People would often ask how I got such a little known character as a name and I would politely repeat the origin of my name, including that I only have one sibling and that I don’t actually know the poem itself, just the title. I also endured numerous longer and more colorful dialogs about my name between my mother and other curious people. Once in a while, my parents would apologetically explain that my name was selected to protect me, but I am certain that my name had not once protected me when I got myself in trouble.

I came to America just in time to start 8th grade, and by then my Chinese name had been loosely “translated” phonetically into English. Now it really sounds nothing like my name, even when I say it. On quite a few occasions, I was completely oblivious when someone was calling for me. One day, my grandmother suggested to me that since I live in America now, it would be easier to have an English name. I thought this was an excellent idea. The very first name she suggested was “Jenny,” and I said okay. Finally, I had a name that is simple, modest, and best of all, does not call attention to itself.

When I got married, since my husband isn’t Chinese, I realized that I would lose part of my ethnic identity if I changed my last name but I decided to change my last name anyway. The logic was simple: I wanted to have the same last name as my future children so that no one would mistake me for their nanny. I kept my maiden name as my middle name. Most of the time a middle name is not required, so, on paper, my name does not suggest that I am Chinese American.

In real life, I am a Chinese American—a proud one, I might add. I am fluent in spoken and written Chinese. My favorite carb is rice, in fact, it is pretty much the only carb I like. I am also an avid green tea drinker, and rarely miss an opportunity to order stinky tofu if my dining partner can tolerate if not share it. After I had children of my own, it became even more important to embrace being Chinese. I wanted to pass down the great Chinese heritage and values to my children. They are taught to be respectful and obedient to their teachers in school, and that being smart and getting good grades is a great source of pride, and yes! math and science is more important than liberal arts.

I also made great efforts to teach my children to be fluent in Mandarin Chinese in our predominately English speaking household. We were fortunate to afford the hiring a full time Chinese speaking nanny for our children for 6 years. I read Chinese children books to my children almost religiously every night. Both of my kids were given Chinese names in addition to English ones and we use their Chinese names at home. We celebrate each major Chinese holiday, and for Chinese New Year, I even stage a celebration that can sort of rival Christmas. They get all dressed up in their beautiful silk Chinese outfits on New Year’s day, I arrange nice display of treats on our table for the kids to enjoy, and instead of the more traditional treats, I disguise mine with gold-wrapped Chocolate coins, and snacks that they like. After all, one has to enjoy the treats to appreciate the holiday. And of course, the red envelops, which they grow to appreciate more and more each year. One day, I think they might like it better than the presents during Christmas. I just have to be very generous with their red envelops. But the most festive part of our Chinese New Year celebration is our annul pilgrimage to my parent’s house. Where they learn that Chinese New Year is a great family celebration mixed with a lot of eating, and more red envelops for the children. I tell them that they are lucky to have more holiday celebrations than most of their friends, because they are Chinese.

And I am lucky to be an Chinese American too. Because I fully embrace the benefits from two great cultures. Even without a Chinese name.

Note: This is an article that was written four years ago. I am very busy with the holidays these days….. I had to resort to recycling.

  • Share/Save/Bookmark
Category: Parents  Leave a Comment

Every Tuesday and Thursday, my two children have soccer practice and rehearsals for their school’s Willy Wonka production. Thank goodness, I have an easy one-dish meal recipe that is simply a life saver. So, on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, I prepare my healthy vegetables with Chicken dish, and put it in the oven to roast while I taxi the kids around.

This dish is so easy, anyone can do it. And it will turn out good. I promise.

Easy one-dish family meal

Ingredients: Vegetables and Chicken drumsticks

Vegetables: Any kind of vegetables that your family likes (or that you can find in your refrigerator). For my family, I usually use the following: Red Potatoes, Carrot, cherry tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms, onions, and string beans.

Chicken: 6 to 8 pieces of drumsticks or 4 pieces of drumsticks with thighs


1)Wash and cut the vegetables to bite size, and put them in a large 2 inch flat pan.
2)Add several cloves of garlic
3)Season the vegetables to taste with salt and pepper, then add Olive oil
4)Season the chicken pieces to taste with salt and pepper, and lay the drumsticks on top of the vegetables.
5)Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the dish in uncovered for an hour and half. Best if you can turn the chicken halfway through for a more even roast.
6)Serve with a side of white rice or bread and butter.

Served with white rice for kids

To avoid boring my family’s palate with the same dish over and over again, I mix it up a little by marinating just the chicken pieces in Teriyaki or Korean BBQ sauce or some other sauce I make up.

You may have noticed that my recipe has no exact measurements–well, I am one of those cooks that doesn’t usually use recipes or measuring cups. I kinda just guess and hope it will turn out right. It usually does! I am a capable chef.

To impress you with my cooking credentials, here are some of the dishes I have made…

Beef with onion

Pig Feet with Soy Beans

Not the best looking, but very yummy pizza!

  • Share/Save/Bookmark
Category: Parents  2 Comments

Christmas is still a whole Thanksgiving away, but my 10 year has already began to campaign for a Christmas present. The child begs for an iPad. To which, I flat out said, “NO”. I don’t even have an iPad!

This morning, after I woke up the kids to get ready for school, I went downstairs to the Kitchen to get the day started. I immediate saw an open book on my Kitchen island, and on the open book, there was a sticky note with some scribbles on it. Clearly, someone wanted me to read this.

Little Agibail and the Beautiful Pony by Shel Silverstein

After a pot of coffee was brewing, and buttered bread was toasting in the toaster oven, I dutifully returned to the open pages to read the text.

It was a short writing titled: “LITTLE ABIGAIL AND THE BEAUTIFUL PONY” by Shel Silverstein.

It read as follows:

There was a girl named Abigail
Who was taking a drive
Through the country
With her parents
When she spied a beautiful sad-eyed
Grey and white pony.
And next to it was a sign
That said,
“Oh,” said Abigail,
“May I have that pony?
May I please?”
And her parents said,
“No you may not.”
And Abigail said,
“But I MUST have that pony.”
And her parents said,
“Well, you can’t have that pony,”
But you can have a nice butter pecan
Ice Cream cone when we get home.”
And Abigail said,
“I don’t want a butter pecan
Ice cream cone,
And her parents said,
“Be quiet and stop nagging–
You’re not getting that pony.”
And Abigail began to cry and said,
“If I don’t get that pony I’ll die.”
And her parents said, “You won’t die.
No child ever died yet from not getting a pony.”
And Abigail felt so bad
That when they got home she went to bed,
And she couldn’t eat,
And she couldn’t sleep,
And her heart was broken,
And she DID die–
All because of a pony
That her parents wouldn’t buy.

(This is a good story
To read to your folks
When they won’t buy
You something you want.)

Just as the toaster oven dinged, I heard the children’s foot steps running downstairs toward the kitchen.

“Did you read the book I laid out for you?” said my wide-eyed 10-year-old excitedly.

“I did.” me.

“Good!” 10-year-old.

We stared at each other…then came: “I could DIE if you don’t buy me that iPad.”

  • Share/Save/Bookmark
Category: Humor, Kids  One Comment

The best remedy for an awkward situation is laughter.

Last week, I was out of town for a few days to a beach destination on personal business. After a particularly laborious day, I noted that my body was in need of pampering. So, after a quick dinner, I went down to the pool area for relaxation.

After a quick dip in the pool, I headed straight for the jacuzzi, and was happy to find the large jacuzzi uninhabited. I settled into the hot tub nicely, and began to unwind as I stared up into the sky covered with stars. Shortly after, an elderly man came to join me in the jacuzzi. He and I exchanged a quick glance and a friendly nod, and we both just sat in the hot bubbling pool quietly minding our own enjoyment.

Through the bubbling noises, I heard two rowdy talking voices approaching. I turned to look, and saw two younger men walking toward the jacuzzi. The two men could easily be twins, if it weren’t for the fact that they had very different faces. They were both medium height, stoutly built, and featuring well endowed beer guts.

They came with big jugs of something to drink in their hands, even though there were signs that alcohol is not allowed in the jacuzzi.

They waded into the hot pool of water, yelling, “Hot! Hot! Hot… ahhh…”, followed by laughing. They were a happy sort of fellas.

“Where you folks from?” One of them shouted out at me and the old man.

The old gentleman answered his question, and they started to carry on with small talk. I simply kept to myself and continued to soak my entire body to the neck in the hot tub, and continued to stare at the starry sky.

After 10 minutes or so, I began to feel overheated, and decided that it was time to go back to my room and get ready for bed.

I quietly got out of the tub, wrapped a towel over myself, and was about to leave. Then I heard the loud young man behind my back, “Oh, I thought you two are together.”

This had me stop in my tracks. What?! This elderly gentleman is quite OLD, and he is Caucasian. And I am a young looking, semi-young Asian woman. Does this bone headed young man think we are a couple?!

I am not in the habit of taking insults lying down! (or standing up). So, I turned to give the mouthy young man a good look.

“You mean, I look like I COULD be his daughter to you?” I demanded.

It got all quiet. His buddy and the old man both looked at me and then back at him.

This bone headed young man is not completely hopeless; he seemed to grasp his offense.
“Um…The lighting is very dark…” he started to think and mumble.

The old man looked at our faces, and started to chuckle. I am not sure which he thought is funnier: that I am his daughter or his girlfriend. The chuckle became contagious, we all started to chuckle and burst into laughter.

“Goodnight, boys.” I said to all of them, as I walked away.

Resort Jacuzzi

  • Share/Save/Bookmark