Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Daily Grind

After the mid-lesson break, my student came back and dropped this comment - "Isn't it sick? It's past 7pm and half of the office is still here."

"Half?" I looked up, across the glass window that separates the conference room from the office space partitioned into mini-cubicles (a rare scene for a Japanese office, I tell you). "But it looks like most people are gone!" I said, seeing only a few lone bodies still glued to their computer screens - 3 computer screens, to b precise, for each of them, yes.

"Well, just go around the corner and see the other side of the floor. Most foreigners sit on this side."

"Ahhhhh ... Now I got it. For the longest time I was going to ask you how come your company seems to keep everyone out by a reasonable hour," I said.

"Yeah, b/c most foreigners do want to get out by 5:30pm and go have dinner with their family or kids. This is a foreign company so I guess they don't care. But you know," my student drew himself close and lowered his voice, even though the conference room door surely was shut tight. "I used to work in a Japanese company and people had this weird notion of needing to stay late. Yet the productivity was SO low."

Later at dinner, I was told that the trip plan might need to be called off.

"There's an event the night before and the an appointment at noon ... If I don't go, I'm probably going to lose this deal."

Lose it then.

"But it's a deal that concerns next year's business with this client."

Right, and this is one that concerns the marching forward to the 3rd decade of my life.

"Well, it's really just circumstantial, you know. I have little control."

I know. It's also just circumstantial that my b-day is set on this particular date. Go ask God for the reasons and I have little control too.

The bottom line is, I'm just sick and tired of this "work comes first" mentality. On your death bed, it's not going to be work or your colleagues or your clients or your boss who are going to accompany you until the final moment.

But we all seem to have forgotten that. Or we seem to be so good at finding excuses for forgetting that.

梅ちゃん at 12:50:00 AM


Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Grass & The Straw: Bordering-Crossing 2

Perhaps it was the very first chilly touch of the slightly damp grass beneath my bare foot or the tasteless, plastic chewiness of the straw in my mouth that made me remember that moment.

I was barely three yet had grown to be a head taller than S. S is the daughter of Mrs. Irv. who was born only a few months ahead of me yet with whom I shared a complete different physical feature. S was blond, petit, white, and soft like a marshmallow who melts in your heart. I, on the other hand, was tall (compared to the other kids in age), broad-shouldered, round-faced, and hung above my head (really) the ugliest (yet typical) boyish haircut that only the Asian moms seem to be too fond of fixing for their kids for the sake of 方便 (convenience) and this whatever notion called 清爽 ("a refreshing look"... so my mom says).

(and yes, all the way until 5, I remained in that so-called convenient and refreshing haircut)

Standing next to S, I looked like a dwarf-sized giant wearing some plain, striped shirt and black pants. Standing next to me, S looked like a picture-book little princess dressed in Cinderella-like pretty dresses with delicate ribbons tied onto her long, silky pony tail.

That afternoon, when the sun has pretty much sunk under the horizon and the remaining water drops from the sprinkler began to chill on the lawn in front of Mrs. Irv.'s house as the temperature began to drop, S and I went out to the lawn, waiting - for S, perhaps for her dad to come home and for me, for mom to pick me up from work.

We began to toy with the thick, plastic straw that either someone had somehow handed over to us or perhaps we had secretely saved from the afternoon Kool-Aid break.

Barefooted, the thick grass underneath me first felt like a tickle; soon, it turned into discomfort. Perhaps the early-evening breeze had begun to blown, brushing against my bare arms and signaling the arrival of the night and the closing of the summer. I started to feel a bit antsy - the same kind of antsyness that I felt years later when I arrived in New England to start college in the fall, tasting the loneliness of being away from home for the first time, and feeling the same way for every autumn/winter to come in grad school when daylight disappears shortly past 4pm and the brisk wind from the coast starts blowing as soon as the sun goes down.

Subconsciously picking up the straw in my hand, I started biting and chewing the tip end. Seeing me doing so, S picked up her straw and started chewing too. Tasteless, I discovered for the first time, when no ice Kool-Aid or early-morning orange juice runs through that hole. Tasteless still, I double checked, but stubborn I thought, as the straw began to form an interesting and sensational battle against the teeth in my mouth.

Barely three, I had not learned about what plastic is or what a straw is made from. But for the first time I discovered that there is such a thing in the world where you put it in your mouth after a hard bite, it remains intact rather than breaking into pieces or exploding into flurry balls of cotton or thread.

The tickle underneath my feet subsided, for for a while I was too absorbed in the act of biting and chewing. The sun set even deeper, and there was still no mom in sight. In the distance, crickets began to sing, pine trees began to sway, and the grass beneath started to grow colder.

In Taiwan, there is always a brown, squarish album tucked on top of the rest of the family albums in A4 size. This odd-sized album bound in leather was a farewell gift that Mrs. Irv. prepared for us before we left.

In the last page of the album, there was a picture of S and me, standing next to each other in disproportional heights, looking not at the camera but far away to the distance waiting for something. Barefooted, in summer short sleeves, with two straws half hanging from our mouth, we barely noticed the cameraman nearby.

"This is taken in your last fall in South Bend," mom says.

Ah, so it wasn't a dream. Once again, the picture and mom's comment confirmed that I have remembered it correctly.

That first and perhaps last touch of the cool, damp grass in late-summer wind, which I would have to wait till 15 years later to feel it again back in the U.S. when taking a walk on campus, and the bland yet chewy sensation of the straw that did not return to me again until mom and dad took me to McDonald's for the first time in Taipei and I sipped empty every drop of the strawberry milkshake that night, aged of 5, when the first McD's appeared in Taiwan.

You see, McDonald's straws are always thicker and sturdier than the thin, flimsy family-use straws you can buy in the Taiwanese supermarket. And the grass in the U.S. is always meant for walking on, rolling on, taking a nap or picnicking on, rather than just for looking.

The grass and the straw - the random, tiny, yet unforgettable memory of mine of my U.S. childhood.

梅ちゃん at 1:46:00 AM


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Border Crossing Chapter 1

Mom likes to tell the story of my young young childhood age, when I was just slightly over three years old and came back to Taiwan with the rest of the family as dad decided to take upon a new job post back in his own home country finally, after 15+ years of residence abroad.

Having been taken care of during the day primarily by my next next door neighbor, Mrs. Irv., English was my only means of communication even though my ability to speak itself remained somewhat limited to a mere 3-year-old.

"But your grandpa loved you!" mom always starts her story like this. "At that time, you were still very tiny, always sitting quietly like a little barbie doll on the high chair."

Barbie doll? Mom, I thought you told me in another story that I suddenly became this rowdy, short-tempered kid after going back to Taiwan 'cuz my world had suddenly turned upside down, with all of my closest playmates and Mrs. Irv. disappearing out of the blue?

Anyway, the story goes on.

"You were a very well-mannered kid. Mrs. Irv taught you to say, 'More please,' whenever you want to have more servings. So each time, grandpa would purposely put just a little less than the usual amount in your plate and then expect you to hand in your little plate after awhile and say those magical words - 'More please!'"

How would grandpa know what that means?

"Yeah, I had to explain what it means to him." Mom put in the addendum. "But he was SO fond of that little you, speaking in those pretty, perfect English tones."

Right. Grandpa probably was SO fond of me and see me as this strange, little Chinese-looking yet American-born/raised "barbie doll" who speaks in this funny language called English.

Of course, some other stories of mom go like this -

"You were a naughty little kid, always fooling your grandpa around."

Alright, mom, you just contradicted yourself. You said that I was a good barbie doll always sitting on my high chair, well-behaved?

"I can't remember how many times I spotted you running fast ahead of grandpa on the way home after he picked you up from daycare. Grandpa's leg had already started to develop problems at that time, so he couldn't walk very fast."

Twinkling tears begin to circle in mom's eyes.

"Did I know that grandpa had trouble walking?"

"Of course you did! Kids know everything! That was why you would purposely run faster than him and let him chase after you. You knew that grandpa would never really get angry at you."

The thing about human memory is, you sometimes remember the most random yet forget the most important. The "More please" story and the fooling-grandpa-around story never remained in the parameter of my memory.

But I do remember one thing, a flash of a scene that for the longest time I thought was just a scene from a vivid dream until I confirmed with mom that it actually happened.

That cold, winter night when showers (or snowflakes?) were pouring outside our house in South Bend, Indiana and our whole family packed up and bundled up like Eskimos, waiting for the car to pull into the driveway.

In my fragmented memory, I remember vividly the car that slowly pulled into the driveway, the beams of rain reflected through the headlights of the car, and, most oddly, the completely darkness in the house. Had my parents already switched off the lights knowing that the car has arrived, or was the image of the reflected rain stayed so strongly in my mind that the rest of the world around me seemed so much darker in comparison?

The next scene, we were on a small, dimly-lit little plane on our way to somewhere. I was still shaking in the cold even though I was already buckled up in my seat and supposedly no in-flight temperature could be that low. But for some reason, the dampness of the rain and the cold air blown out of my nose and mouth never left me.

Years later, I saw a picture in the family album. There were the four of us, standing in front of a Christmas tree in an airport-like public space. There was me, dressed up like a chubby eskimo in my khaki-colored winter coat. I had only a slight smile on my face probably b/c I still couldn't get over how cold it was.

"Where were we going, mom?"

"Oh, this is the day when we left the U.S. to go back to Taiwan! This was taken at the airport at South Bend. We had to first take a small plane to Chicago and then transfer from there."

So that was definitely more than a dream.

"Was it really cold that day? Like it was showering or something?"

"Yah, how do you know?" Mom was surprised. "It was right after Christmas day and the weather was terrible. Come to think of it, it probably wasn't a good idea to have the whole family of four riding on such a small plane like that ..."

Could I have somehow felt that it was more than just a regular going-away on the weekend and thus my brain made a mental note to itself, asking the memory to stay?

What about the rest of the lost memories? Could they have stayed in the memories of others and be retraced now, or have they always remained deep inside of me, exerting influences in other ways, such as maintaining that perfect English accent of mine even though all the grammar rules and phrases had slipped out of my communication system just months after moving back to Taiwan?

My first leaving home experience, going to a land of unknown though a land called home for my parents. My first "cross-cultural" interchange with my dear old grandpa, and my first encounter with meeting people who are not foreign but act and speak and behave like foreigners to me or me like a foreign doll to them.

"Border-crossing" - it has and will never remain just an academic jargon or theoretical debate to me. Nor will I ever allow it to be.

梅ちゃん at 1:02:00 PM


Sunday, October 04, 2009








梅ちゃん at 4:45:00 AM