Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Miss Pat Morita



So I guess they're remaking "The Karate Kid", with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith playing the Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio roles. And from the looks of this trailer, the movie's set in China, the ancient land of mean-eyed wushu-trained boys and demure violin-playing girls. During the course of the flick, Jackie Chan (sporting a moustache wispier than Mariah Carey's in "Precious") sagely teaches Jaden Smith how to be a kick-ass kung fu fighter, in part by instructing him to "JACK IT OFF" or something like that. (I guess "wax on, wax off" wasn't suggestive enough.)

But wait a second: This remake features a Chinese kung fu master teaching kung fu in China. There's no karate in this film -- not even the fake kind that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-san. So why is this movie still called "The Karate Kid"? Why not "The Kung Fu Kid" or "Will Smith's Kid" or "Jack It Off"?

Oh, right -- I forgot for a moment that in Hollywood's eyes, all Asians (and their respective forms of native martial arts) are totally interchangeable.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

humbug

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

I remember our first Christmas together. I had gotten her one of those hand-held electric back massagers (which she asked me to return). She had gotten me a DVD player (which we had to buy a new TV to accommodate).

And we had a live tree that we bought from a reformed drug addict who was selling them outside the Rite Aid on Grand Street. He brought it to our apartment in a shopping cart that rattled and jangled across the islands on Delancey. He had a little hatchet he used to trim off the lower branches so the tree would fit into the stand. We didn’t question it at the time but later that night we kicked ourselves for being so naive. We let a self-admitted drug addict into our home with an axe.

There is a picture of the four of us (our youngest just over a month old) with Santa at Macy’s. It was the last time Christmas didn’t feel like a hassle. By “hassle” I mean it was the last time Christmas didn’t feel rushed or contrived. And by “contrived” I mean it was the last time Christmas felt like a celebration rather than an obligation.

I’ve been telling the same joke lately. For many of my friends and acquaintances, it is their babies’ first Christmases (or Hanukkahs). I’ve been telling them (jokingly of course): Enjoy baby’s first Christmas (or Hanukkah) because pretty soon he’ll (or she’ll) be asking for stuff.

I don’t mean it in a mean way. It’s not a cynical statement on the commercialism of Christmas and human greed. It’s more an amusing “circle of life” observation on my part. It’s normal child development for my boys to want specific things. It is also normal for them to want what their friends have. It’s a sign they are becoming self aware and constructing a personal aesthetic. It’s also a sign they are becoming socially aware.

A train set is no longer a train set, it is the Thomas the Tank Engine train set like the one [Insert Child’s Peer’s Name Here] got. A video game is not a video game , it’s a DS like the ones [the ominous] they have at school.

My boys are maturing and asserting themselves. The catalysts determining their desires is inconsequential for now. We will eventually have the “talk” about not mindlessly following peer groups but for now it is enough they are becoming sensitive to the norms of their peer group.

That said. It doesn’t mean I don’t get a little bit sentimental about the days when it was enough that the present was from me. With their newfound desires comes new burdens not to disappoint.

… humbug.

Elizabeth Bernstein writes about disappointing holiday gifts from husbands/boyfriends to wives/girlfriends in her Wall Street Journal article, “The Gift that Needs Forgiving.” It seems the “thought” is not enough.

After recounting several tales of “inappropriate” gifts she has been told, she concludes:

You shouldn't need a gift consultant (or a marriage counselor) to tell you these presents are wrong. They're utilitarian. Unromantic. Ugly. And, in many cases, more suitable for a man, or a cleaning woman, than the love of your life.

I am reminded of Cordelia’s plight in King Lear. She ineffectively expresses her love for her father and is cast out. However, the moral Shakespeare posits is the polar opposite of Bernstein’s. He chooses to show superficial gestures of affection paling in the light of those that are more subtle and genuine.

As I read Bernstein’s article, I felt a swell rise from my gut. It wasn’t the holiday sweets charitably giving me a second taste. It was annoyance. As clever as she was in her article, she (perhaps inadvertently) portrayed women as shallow, demanding princesses whose emotional investments are in tokens of homage instead of more meaningful, potentially sincere gifts.

To illustrate my point, Bernstein includes Tom Valentino’s story among the tales of disappointed wives and girlfriends. He is meant represent the “men’s perspective.” He tells of his upbringing and its influence on his values.

In his parents' house, Christmas was all about religious values—and food. Gifts were an afterthought.

"I started to think, well, we have three kids already, so no need for anything from Victoria's Secret," he says. "And I bought her a fancy watch last year for her birthday. How many of those does she need?"

Then he remembered his wife had said she needed a vacuum and a bigger pasta pot. Off to Macy's he went. "I could almost smell the sauce cooking with meatballs, sausage and braciole," he says. "How could a woman not be happy with these?"

He found out, because the gifts made his wife cry.

What would have been an appropriate gift? For the most part, the true desires of the women included in the story are never revealed. Is it a matter of not knowing what you want but knowing enough that you don’t want what you were given?

I am reminded of “Rosebud” and a little snow globe given by a man to a woman. She rejects the gift and goes on to say he never gave her anything of value.

Bernstein concludes:

Sometimes men aren't listening to their wives. But just as often, women aren't clear about their desires. They want men to pick up on their subtle clues, rather than telling them outright what they'd like. As one woman I know explains, "It means we are special to them if they detect what we want without us telling them."

So what’s a Rice Daddy to do? The Asian side of me says: Gift Cards! The American side of me says: That’s so “utilitarian, unromantic,” and “ugly.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Our newest edition.



So many changes come along with bringing a baby into the house. We've done as much as we can to prepare and now with 40 weeks gone by, a new little bundle of responsibility has again been thrust upon us. We find ourselves having the same conversations we had when our first child was born. Challenges like breastfeeding, diapering and volatile sleep schedules will now plague us for the next several months. So many issues long forgotten now have to be revisited. I was surprised to find out that swaddling is no longer the tried and true approach when dealing with newborns. In fact, we even had some nurses recommend that we wrap the baby loosely to encourage free arm movement, a much different approach than just three years prior.

My wife and I have vowed to keep things a little more flexible and easy-going this time around. With our son things were regimented, scheduled and internet researched to death. I guess that's one of the dangers of being so connected, information is ubiquitous (too much of a good thing sometimes turns out to be less helpful). I've also vowed to myself that we'll be a little more adventurous with regard to our daughter's food experiences and language exposure; two things that haven't turned out exactly the way I planned for my son. Perhaps I'm just trying to make up for the small disappointments we experienced and the request for Grilled cheese sandwiches everyday just aren't cutting it for me. However things turn out I hope that we can learn from our mistakes and help to raise a well-rounded, kind, compassionate and confident human being.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Kid Whisperer

So my brother recently alerted me to this recent NY Times piece about parents using techniques they learn from TV host Cesar Millan on their children. If you aren't familiar with Cesar, he's the man behind the mega popular National Geographic show "Dog Whisperer." So as you can see, the tips he's teaching on the tube aren't necessarily appropriate for junior.

A year before we became parents, we took in my 12-year-old border collie/lab mix Spaz. He had been at my parents house his whole life, and they were getting fed up with him. (Ya see, he was named "Spaz" for a reason.) Since my wife and I were devoted "Dog Whisperer" viewers, we figured we could practice Cesar's way (discipline, exercise, affection) to get Spaz to a more "balanced" place when he moved in with us. And lo and behold, after a couple months, the dog that had been a terror for over a decade became a well-adjusted pet. (Of course, his advanced age probably had something to do with it, too). Sometimes I wonder if our success in helping Spaz convinced us we could be good parents. So fast forward a couple years, and we actually had a toddler in the house who, while she isn't chasing her tail and barking at the neighbors, can give "old, crazy Spaz"a run for his money.

We sometimes joke about using some of Cesar's tricks (a la this excellent spoof courtesy of South Park) but didn't realize there were parents out there who actually practiced it. Are these the same parents who put their toddlers on leashes too? Coz taking dogs on walks (with a specially modified leash) is like the major takeaway from each DW episode.

I wonder, does it work the other way? Like, if my dog has an accident on the rug, can I put him on the naughty step a la Supernanny?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Swine Flu



I haven't caught this, but many people I know have. There have been 3,900 deaths in the U.S. so far. Protect yourself. Wash your hands often, especially if you have kids. And if you have any questions regarding the current state of this epidemic, check out the CDC website here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

from the K5 blog



It's time for parent-teacher conferences for New York City parents. This video was forwarded to me by a parent in my son's class. While not Asian specific, I felt it offered some common sense advice for maximizing the adult learning potential in just 10 minutes.

I agree with the host. 10 minutes is not a lot of time but with a little preparation it might be just enough time.

If you are interested, here's a list of other things you can do in 10 minutes from Associated Content:

Ten Things You Can Do in 10 Minutes
You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish in just 10 minutes.
Read More

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kohn Head

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

Whenever the subject of Asian parents and discipline comes up, I think of Russell Peters’ skit about his dad and spankings.

BigWOWO posted a reaction to Alfie Kohn’s article on “unconditional parenting.” As Daniel Willingham aptly points out, Alfie Kohn “has made a virtual industry out of finding interesting and provocative insights” on education and child development. On the Britannica blog (Yes, the encyclopedia people), the comments to Kohn’s reaction to Willingham’s reaction to his work is the best indication of how successful he is at what he does.

I don’t believe his critics. In fact, I agree with most of Kohn’s initial assertions. He’s right when he says that parents should love their children unconditionally. He makes a good point in his criticism of the Supernanny. Her solutions do seem superficial and temporary. And I do agree that homework for homework’s sake is counterproductive. The purpose of homework is to practice skills (both newly acquired and existing).

I like the ideas of student-directed curriculum and child-centered parenting. The former being the consideration of students’ interests and concerns in the application of classroom curriculum. The latter being the inclusion of the child’s voice in serious family decisions.

However, as practice they are flawed. Student-directed and child-centered approaches place premature burdens on the audience they seek to serve. Children do not yet have the life experiences for the cognition Kohn is demanding of them. In the case of the former, consistently appealing to a child’s interest does not provide him or her with the strategies needed to contend with moments of tedium or instances when other’s interests supersede his or her own. Without strategies for tedium, the child will most likely give up when a problem is too hard and he or she feels bored and frustrated.

In the latter, the child is thrown into a sink-or-swim situation. Without the prior experiences to navigate the nuances of social relationships or the powers at play, children can easily make potentially harmful decisions. Or they are simply expected “to know” without reasonable preparation or experience. It is the difference between asking a five year old: “Do you know why what you did was wrong?” and telling that five year old: “What you did was wrong because XYZ could have gotten hurt.”

Kohn was the daddy I wanted when I was 13. The permissive daddy who never shouted and never spanked. Who would coo and coddle me even when I failed my tests. My Baba is the daddy I am happy I got at 21. Unlike a Kohn Daddy, my Baba set down rules and helped me understand that rationality and morality were subjective. They rely heavily on a person’s cultural sensibilities and understanding of the world. And the world is often very Kafka-esque, possessed of a hermetic logic.

Now, a father myself, I have an even greater respect for the sacrifices my parents made for me. And I don't mean material sacrifices. I mean the emotional ones of denying me a car when I was a teenager because they knew I liked to go out and more often than not over do it in libations. I hated them at the time but now it's different. Now I have a context for the past. Now I realize that they made tough choices and placed themselves in the roles of villains because they were guarding my well being and nurturing my potential.

I believe our children depend on us to make decisions when they are either unprepared to or unwilling to. They depend on us as parents to willingly be the bad guys for their greater good. I am not a fan of “free range” parenting promoted by Kohn. And I can’t help wondering how many of the college students Assor, Roth, and Deci interviewed were culturally Asian. I bring culture up because I wonder if the interviewee's feelings of estrangement are consequences of something other than their failures or a lack of coddling.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

“Gwoye Fan”

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

When you make fried rice, you use rice that’s been in the fridge overnight (“gwoye faan” in Cantonese). You don’t use fresh rice right out of the cooker.

The other thing you don’t do when making fried rice is you don’t cook everything all together, all at once. I mean you can, but I’m pretty sure my Dad would give you his patented WTF-look. It’s not a look of anger or reproach. It’s more on the lines of “if you’re not going to do it right, please step out of my kitchen.”

It’s been so long since I posted to Rice Daddies that it didn’t feel right to repost or cross-post something from Cranial Gunk (my personal blog). Happily, other Rice Daddies have been composing some really thoughtful pieces and sharing some really interesting links. I tried to leave comments on the posts that really struck me, but had too much to say for just a line or two.

So here I am with my gwoye faan, my eggs, spring onions, and my Birds Eye Classic Mixed Vegetables, to make you some of my Dad’s “chaau faan.”

How do other Rice Daddies feel about Jon Gosselin? I think he is making some very foolish decisions right now in a belated effort to assert his identity and redirect the course his family has taken. I feel that a lot of unflattering reports are a result of his being a public figure without a savvy public relations team.

Obiwanhavanese posted about his anxieties regarding his son not learning his parents’ native language. I’ve also had the same fears. Currently, despite starting early with my eldest, we cannot say that he speaks Chinese. He remembers numbers and a phrase here and there but not well enough to actually use them with any automaticity.

However, it’s not his problem or his brother’s. It’s our problem, their mother and mine. The children want to learn but among the hindrances is the fact that neither their mother or I speak Mandarin (the Chinese that their mother and my parents say the kids should learn). Their mother speaks Vietnamese and I speak Cantonese. My parents (native Cantonese speakers) speak a little Mandarin but are not fluent enough to help the children learn. In fact, part of the problem is that my own Asian-born immigrant parents prefer to speak English to the children!

Malcolm Gladwell spends a good deal of Outliers speaking to the impact of “cultural legacy” in shaping success and Karen the Californian alludes to the social expectations of an Asian face mouthing Asian words. While I maintain my belief that learning Chinese is important for my children, I also acknowledge language is only one cultural transmitter. Language helps but there are other ways to perpetuate a cultural legacy.

In the opening of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, a pregnant Indian woman living in Boston, combines

Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chili pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix… a humble approximation of a snack sold of pennies on Calcutta sidewalks.

There are differences between Asian culture and Asian American culture. Food is another cultural transmitter. Lahiri’s description of a woman’s attempt to recall her home country through a self-concocted recipe is an example of this difference.

Now let’s go back to Jon. Current circus aside, there was a painful episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8 where he “teaches” his children about his culture. Jon’s mother is Korean (which brings up the interesting question – Why doesn’t he assume his father’s culture as his culture?)

I agree with Racialious, the episode was atrocious and upsetting because it promoted several Asian stereotypes. In this day and age, it is not outrageous to expect both Jon and Kate to be more racially sensitive. In the show, Jon talks to the camera about his “culture.” I wonder if he identifies himself as an Asian American or if the designation was put upon him by the show’s producers seeking to expand the show’s demographics?

Back to Obiwanhavanese’s dilemma, as Asian Americans how important is it for our children to speak our parent’s language? Do you think the Gosselin children will learn Korean? Does their father?

Assuming our children do not speak the ancestral “mother tongue” (it is a given that mine don’t because Mandarin is not my mother’s tongue) can what is lost be replaced by another cultural transmitter?

Part of the challenge of identifying yourself as Asian American is determining which is Asian and which is American? Identifying yourself as Asian American necessitates the establishment of new common “norms,” traditions, or practices that distinguish the categorization from identifying yourself as Asian.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When Your Kid Says Too Much



This is more of a Rice Boy post rather than a Rice Daddy post--since the dad is White--but I thought it raised some interesting parenting questions. So you've all heard about the boy who everyone thought was in the runaway balloon--authorities were scrambling in fear that a six year old boy was in a helium balloon that he had supposedly set aflight, and when the balloon landed, he wasn't there. It turned out that the little boy was hiding in the attic.

So in the clip above, on Wolf Blitzer's show, the father asks the son why he was didn't come out of the attic when they called him. Six year old Falcon responded, "You guys said that we did this for the show." Obviously, this called into question whether or not the whole thing was a publicity stunt. The fact that the family was previously on the show Wife Swap--twice--does suggest a bit of, um, camera love.

Though I do feel a bit suspicious that the kid didn't come out of the attic when called, I won't be casting accusations--it really isn't for me to judge. In either case though, how embarrassing! I watch what I say all the time in front of my kids, but if this was indeed a publicity stunt, what crazy way to have the lid blown off the story!

I've found that having kids has made me a lot more straight forward. My son repeats things all the time, and the last thing I need is for him to blow the lid off any of my stories. You almost have to be straight and open and a lot more certain about where you stand on issues.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boy, Girl, Gay, Straight, I don't care...

Our second child was born yesterday, and upon learning that it was a boy, one family friend responded, "Oh, as the father, you must be pretty excited to finally have a son!"
I'm like, "What, do I look like some kind of meathead? I don't care if it's a boy, girl, gay or straight. As long as it's healthy and happy." (You can imagine how mortified my devoutly Catholic mother was to hear that.)
"Don't you at least want someone who will carry on the family name?"
"First of all, it's just a name," I replied. "Secondly, that's not even our real name."
"What's your real name, then?"
"I have no idea," I said. "No one knows."
"What do you mean? How could no one know?"
"See, most Filipinos will proudly explain that the reason they have a Spanish last name is because they had a Spanish ancestor, like a hundred generations back," I explained further.
"What, are you saying that you don't have any Spanish ancestors?"
"Probably, maybe some haciendero who took a servant as his mistress. But the real reason we have Spanish last names is because the Spanish colonial authorities got sick and tired of trying to figure out the indigenous surnames. So, back in the 1800s, they gave the natives a list of Spanish names to choose from."
"I had no idea."
On another note, I suggested giving the kid my wife's last name, since we named him after my late father-in-law. But my wife said it was bad enough that she never changed her name. She didn't want her in-laws a reason to resent her.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Conditional Parenting

There was an interesting article in the NY Times today about "conditional parenting," which the author describes as a style of child rearing in which parents "turn up the affection when they’re good, withhold affection when they’re not." The author points to evidence that this parenting style may create more compliance in children, but that it also creates more psychological issues when children become adults. The author criticizes Supernanny Jo Frost and Dr. Phil as people who advocate for conditional parenting. This article is currently the most popular on the NY Times site.

The author doesn't say much about his style of "unconditional parenting," only that "In practice, according to an impressive collection of data by Dr. Deci and others, unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by “autonomy support”: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view."

I don't know about this. If anyone has ever tried to "reason" with a three year old as to why he shouldn't hit his baby sister, it doesn't work. Kids are kids. They think differently from adults. They haven't yet developed higher logical skills, and at their young age, they shouldn't need these skills.

I like Supernanny. She uses the time out, then she follows it with an explanation. I agree that there is probably psychological damage that comes from punishments, but I wonder if the damage is worse than running a home with no discipline. I know lots of parents who never discipline their kids. I also know parents who threaten their kids but never follow up. While I strongly disagree with spanking, and while I see the problems with conditional parenting, I think the alternative to conditional parenting is much worse. I think it should be possible to use a time out without expressing a withdrawal of love.

What are your views on discipline?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

BENTO CROSSES OVER


What’s for Lunch? Enter the Bento Box, a Touch of Japan - NYTimes.com

This is a cute story but here's my sneaking suspicion...given that the NYT is one of the constant sources of anxiety for status-conscious, upwardly mobile parents/couples (and moms in particular), I just imagine this will set off a small wave of women thinking, "now I have to master making bentos for my kids/husband? FML."

Just saying.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

BACK TO BIRTH ORDER

18 and Under - Birth Order - Fun to Debate, but How Important? - NYTimes.com

Speaking of Breakfast...

According to the New York Times, the country's largest food manufacturers are rolling out a new food-labeling campaign called Smart Choices, which is “designed to help shoppers easily identify smarter food and beverage choices.” And guess what made the list of so-called "Smart Choices"?

Froot Loops.



Eileen Kennedy, the president of the Smart Choices board -- and also the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University -- has defended the labeling of this fluorescent breakfast treat as a healthy alternative to other products, telling the Times that Froot Loops is "better than other things parents could choose for their children."

I know what she means. There are far worse things to feed your kid, such as the KFC Double Down Sandwich, deep fried butter, Hydroxycut, rat poison, poo, etc.

But isn't that like saying we're going to give an Oscar Award to Vin Diesel just because others (e.g., Larry the Cable Guy, Justin Guarini, Willie Aames) are even worse actors?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Part of a Nutritious Breakfast

I don't know why, but I thought making breakfast for my kids would be easy.

My childhood breakfasts consisted of leftovers from the previous nights' dinner (invariably, Chinese food) -- my parents ignored my pleas for "normal" breakfast items like Froot Loops and Pop Tarts (both, I reminded my mom and dad, are part of a nutritious breakfast, goddammit). "When I grow up," I seethed, "I'm going to let my kids eat WHATEVER THEY WANT."

It's obvious now that I jinxed myself.

I start each morning with high hopes that my four-year-old will feel like eating something easy to prepare. And by "prepare," I mean "dump into a bowl."

He, on the other hand, approaches breakfast like a seasoned hostage negotiator. Or hostage-taker.

Crossing my fingers, I shoot first, with an all-too-cheery "How 'bout some cereal for breakfast?"

"What else do you have?" he fires back.

"This isn't a restaurant." I inform him. He stares at me blankly, expectantly -- a well-honed tactic to elicit an offer of a breakfast alternative. It works. "You can have toaster waffles," I add, reaching for the freezer.

"Nah. What else?" He adds a sweet smile. Cunning.

I roll my eyes. "Nothing else. That's all we got, buddy."

"Okay, then I won't eat anything."

That won't do; my wife would have my head. Conceding defeat, I mutter: "How about a scrambled egg?"

"OH-kaaay, but with toast. HALF a piece of toast. And not too crunchy -- it has to be kind of crunchy, but still a little soft. And I want to scramble the egg."

He does, and I cook it. I cut and toast the bread. I load it on a SpongeBob plate. It is as perfect as I can make it.

"Daddy, you didn't cut up my egg!"

I cut it to ribbony shreds with the edge of a fork, and set the plate down again. "Eat!" I command.

He sits and stares at his breakfast, expressionless, motionless. Finally, he sighs: "Nah. I'm not hungry." Pause. "I want a banana and some cheese. Cheddar cheese, not string cheese. You gave me string cheese last time, and I hate it."

As our early morning stalemate continues, our nineteen-month-old stands up, having wriggled free of his high chair restraining belt. He starts screeching and flicking Cheerios onto the floor, demanding fruit. "FWOOT. FWOOT. FWOOT." (This kid is, we've decided, a lacto-carbo-fruitarian: He ingests nothing but dairy products, simple white carbs and fruit. He disdains vegetables and meat; if we try to hide a speck of chicken or a pea under a spoonful of macaroni, he spits it out.) Finally, he settles for a few grapes, a sippy cup of milk, a piece of his brother's uneaten toast, and a handful of almonds.

His big brother, meanwhile, has finally eaten a couple of bites of his scrambled egg, and has devoured an entire banana. He's also munched on the Cheerios left on his baby brother's tray.

On the plus side, I suppose the kids are getting what they need for breakfast: "a combination of a healthy carbohydrate that offers fiber and a protein food." According to nutritionists, picky kids don't have to eat traditional breakfast items; rather:

Leftover beans and salsa or a grilled cheese and turkey bacon sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a piece of fruit on the side are other good choices; even leftovers of lean meat or chicken from last night’s dinner, along with toast and fruit, do the job. Nut-butter sandwiches are great if made with higher-fiber breads and low-sugar fruit spreads.
So guess who's having breadsticks, cream cheese and prunes tomorrow morning?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A fight to keep the language alive!

I was born in Korea, but moved to Canada with my family when I was almost 3 years old. I'm sure when my parents made the decision to immigrate they didn't foresee the ramifications of dropping a child who's never been exposed to English into such a foreign environment. I can tell you with much certainty that they didn't have the same concerns that I have as a parent today. Instead of worrying about whether the child would adapt and learn English, I find myself worrying about the opposite: whether my son will ever learn Korean.

Perhaps, it was more advantageous for me to learn Korean first. From what my parents have told me
, I had a pretty good grasp of the language at an early age. Since I didn't enter the formal school system for a few years after moving to Canada, spoken Korean was further reinforced during that time. Although I do remember watching shows like "Sesame Street" and "Electric Company", there was no where near the amount of media available when I was the age my son is now. Today, my son is bombarded with cable television, internet, DVDs, and print media. The available outlets for programming is limitless, ubiquitous, and brought to you in high definition! It's no doubt that a child would be highly affected.

I grew up in the era where English as a Second Language (ESL) classes were in their infancy and not readily available in all schools. I didn't have to be part of the groups of kids that were separated from the rest of the general school population, (makes elementary school sound like prison). I guess I was lucky because I was young and able to pick up English quickly. In Kindergarten my teacher mentioned to my parents that I was adjusting just fine and yammering away like all the rest of the kids.

Like many of my school mates who spoke other languages, I truly did lead a bilingual life where one language was spoken at home and English everywhere else. I don't remember exactly how I was able to maintain fluency in both languages, but I managed to do it. From what I hear, this is not always the case with kids in the same situation. I know many children who immigrate simply abandon their first language perhaps in the aim to fit in faster and become more successful in school.

Now my son is almost the same age as I was when we immigrated to Canada. As he grows and develops, I try to show him things that are distinctly Korean. I try my best to expose him to language, food, and cultural differences; however, at times I feel like I'm losing the battle. Like a typical toddler he is specifically finicky about trying new foods and good luck getting him to taste something he doesn't recognize.

It's a difficult and frustrating process, because as a parent you want your children to thrive, learn and develop. My wife and I put a lot of effort into trying to give him a good foundation. A little after his first birthday he began using sign language to communicate basic thoughts and wants. It was exciting to see him ask for for objects, food, milk, cookies, etc. At that time I also tried to lay the Korean foundation, but I saw myself gradually gravitating towards English, since the payoff was much greater.

Although, my son does understand some Korean words and explicitly refers to some objects/nouns in Korean only 간장 (soy sauce) , 만두 (mandu) to name a couple, I think that the English world has got such an upper hand it's overwhelming to fight against. I am the only person who he sees on a regular basis that speaks Korean to him at all. Lately when I speak Korean to him he says: "No thank you Daddy, I'm not going to say it", which breaks my heart a little. I recently took him to visit my aunt (who cannot speak English at all) and while I was doing some work at her house, he chose to hide in the closet (where I was working) instead of trying to interact with her. He was definitely overwhelmed by the fact that he couldn't understand what she was saying and vice versa. Maybe I'm worrying about it prematurely, he'll have ample opportunities to learn a second language later, but I had grandiose visions of he and I sharing a laugh together in something other than English. I guess I'll have to postpone that vision until later.

Funny Commercial

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I'm Happy...but



Like millions around the world, I was ecstatic to see Euna Lee and Laura Ling step off the plane today, safe again after confinement in North Korea. As a journalist (former, I suppose) and parent of a 4-year old, the sight of Euna and Hana reuniting also touched me deeply.

But, is it wrong for me to feel a bit off that it took a white dude to pull off the deal? How many times have we seen this happen in movies where the Asian female is "saved" by the dashing white dude? Not mad at Bubba at all, he did the damn thing. BC gets a lifetime honorary AZN pass.

Just wondering if flashbacks of "Come See the Paradise" were ringing for anyone else...

SD

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Becoming a Father

Every night I pray to the moon,

That I will see you again in this life.

Lady Shin (Chosun Dynasty)

I became a father before I became interested in adoption.

When I was younger, the word was thrown around like crumpled newspaper in the breeze snagging against fences and street signs. When I was a teenager, I found word buried beneath my middle name. It was always there, but never spoken. It sat there like the pause on people’s breaths after hearing my last name that doesn’t sound Asian. When I was older, it became the cud of conversation: a badge of my disposition that I wore on my sleeve.

Yet, it wasn’t until I was a father that my true search for self began.

Nothing can prepare you for the ties of blood. The reflection of myself in my daughter’s form made me realize that she was the first person I could touch who was related to me by blood. I couldn’t recall my omoni’s caresss, imonim’s chest, or halmoni’s scent. It was this girl, who slept by my chest, on my chest, burrowed in my chest that intoxicated me with the breath of ancestry.

I took on an earnest passion for genealogy, tracing the lines of my not-Asian last name to the deep forests of a different continent. But, I failed to see the irony in tracking my adoptive parent’s past to Denmark, Scotland, and France. And so, it was my daughter’s birth that sent me to my own new birth.

My first gossamer thread I cast was an email to my adoption agency. I believed it would take years for a lead. I was prompted by stories of others’ plight. I was seduced by the believability and safety that it wouldn’t happen.

Instead: a sonic boom. Within one week, a message was returned. Within weeks, my birth family desired more. Within months, a letter arrived from Korea. Within the year, I was on a plane to Seoul. The journey hasn’t stopped since.

However, during this journey, my conviction towards adoption didn’t change. I was, and still am, in favor of adoption reform and adoptee rights. I believed that adoption was a necessary institution in particular situations, and downright evil in others. I believed in nuance and thoughts in shadows.

My perception of adoption is what changed. Before, the word was nothing more than a moniker for wealthy white couples buying orphaned children. The children themselves almost never had a story. Why should they? They were merely the players on the stage, and the leads were the white saviors. Having a daughter made me realize that adoption is all about the minor character. It’s all about the child, who never acts, but is acted upon. It isn’t Romeo and Juliet, it’s Mercutio and Tybalt. It’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

At the same time, I could see my daughter’s childhood and be witness to memories. She might not remember everything that happened, but I could tell her when her own memory failed. This was the biggest change in my perception. That adoption wasn’t just about the players, but the story of loss and sorrow.

And so, adoption became a trail of forgotten words dangling in the rafters of my mind. It was shoe boxes of photographs, a neatly delivered silk-wrapped infant shoe that had been hidden in a drawer, and a list of names, dates, and fees that added up to the sum of me. Yet, it took nearly four years after my search began for the story to be unearthed and unloosed from the grip of my adoptive parents. It was their story for almost thirty years, and finally, it became mine.

Yet, staring at my daughter before I left for Korea the first time, I realized the emotional effort required to let go of your own flesh and blood, or even a story that feels like your flesh and blood. It is an open wound that no doctor can mend or stitch closed. It continually tears and rips with every day, month, and year. There isn’t a scar because it’s never healed. It is the moon, torn from the Earth.

This was written as a column for an adoption magazine due out this month (I think).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What's up with Preschool

After having a second child, we didn't feel right having the grandmothers taking care of a newborn and a 3 year old, so we've been shopping preschools. As much as we are proud of never returning to the nest after college, we realize we're still dependent on them for free childcare. Even so, we don't want to put our sixty year old mothers, during their "retirement" chasing around a hyper three year old while heating breast milk and soothing our infant, no matter how adorable she is.

We've official been to about half of the preschool facility within five miles of our jobs and our home. I think we've made a decision. Some are affliated with universities; some are very commercial national programs, and we've seen a range that deemed themselves "Montessori." Some places require potty training which is makes my wife and I share knowing glances like we got a secret venereal disease as we mentally run through yesterday's potty accidents.

We even looked into having our son put into a special education preschool class with one of our friends' kids even though he doesn't have special needs which looked promising but it wouldn't work out with the scheduling. Because I need to be at work around 7 am, that has automatically eliminated ninety percent of places that do not start that early. We are looking for a slow transition, beginning my son with a half-day, three-day a week schedule. It seemed for many schools, nothing much happened after lunch and nap other than more of the same. Knowing my son and as a teacher, I wonder what huge blocks of "circle time" or "structured play" looks like given his limited attention span.

As an English teacher, I have to admit I'm partial to literacy practice and exposure. I know that developmentally he won't be ready for certain things and I don't want a stigma from pushing him too fast too early but I don't think some academic curriculum, a little writing, some phonemic awareness and reading circle, is going too fast during a 6 hour day. I'm skeptical of completely "play-based" education -- trust me my son is all about playing. Social interaction with other children will also be a big plus since outside of the occassional play date, his only regular interaction is limited to adults.

One thing I can't help but noticing is that at all the preschools--the students are almost entirely white and east Asian. That is definitely not the case at the public schools where I teach which are at least 50% Latino. This is not true of my city in diverse Southern California which has significant populations of African Americans, Latinos, and even Pacific Islanders. I know the cost of preschool can be prohibitive but as a teacher, its not like I'm raking it in and I can afford it. I know the value of utilizing extended family and I know an independent daycare or childcare provider can be much cheaper but is there a true cultural difference? Are there more stay at home mothers? Where do black and brown kids go when both their parents work?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Sam Yoon--Rice Daddy Running for Mayor of Boston


(pic found here, courtesy of the Boston Herald)

Hey All,

I had the opportunity to talk to Sam Yoon today, who is running for mayor of Boston. Hear my podcast here (and read my other reasons for supporting him). It's a fascinating podcast, and I think there is a lot to learn from his experience, even if you're on the other side. Most of us are not from Boston, but we can still support him financially, and we can still inform all of our networks.

Sam is the first Asian American ever to run for public office in Boston, and he won on his first try in 2005 when he ran for a seat on the Boston City Council. Now he is running for mayor where, if he wins, he'll be the first Asian American mayor of Boston, as well as the first Asian American mayor of a city of Boston's size. He's got some very good views on education, as well as some solid thinking on race relations.

Hey, he's also a fellow Rice Daddy. Listen to the entire podcast. He talks about his role as a son and as a parent, and he's doing the right thing by taking the lead. If you're interested in helping, spread word on your Facebook and with your network, and/or visit Sagar's donation page here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Portland Daddy Group









Portland Dads at Home



(cross posted at bigWOWO)

I learned of this group maybe a month ago, but they got written up in the Oregonian just this past week. Check out the article here.

I've communicated with some of these guys through e-mail, and they seem very nice. I think it's a great idea for dads to do community activities like this, even those of us who aren't Stay-at-Home-Dads. We humans are communal animals, and kids have so much more fun when they're playing with and surrounded by other kids. If Eric, the guy in the video, had success in a small city like Portland, I can imagine that forming a dad's group would be possible in other cities as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mei Mei and Me

(Cross posted on bigWOWO)

Edit: Okay, I just saw some of the later videos, so I have to correct what I wrote. Some of the later DVDs in the series are quite high tech and shot from China. They look like they had professional choreographers and makeup artists, and the sound quality is professional. So the following only applies to the other ones we saw. My bad, Mei Mei.

My original post:


For parents trying to teach their kids Chinese, there's a huge selection of Chinese language DVDs out there. My three year old son Gun-Gun has checked out Ni Hao Kai Lan, Language Tree, and a bunch of others, most of which use high tech DVD tricks to create interactive dialogue. Language Tree, for example, asks the children to press buttons on the DVD remote in order to pass little pop quizzes. Ni Hao Kai Lan has stories about children and animals getting along and sprinkles Chinese in with the main English dialogue. These videos are good looking, well produced, and have all kinds of cute animated characters and dialogues. One gets the feeling that they spent a lot of money to bring in experts on language acquisition and child psychology. As the saying goes, "you get what you pay for," so it naturally made sense to my adult mind that the high production DVDs would be the best.

So understandably, I was baffled when I found that my son's favorite Chinese language DVD was not Kai Lan, not Language Tree, not any of these other high budget productions, but an obscure series called Mei Mei and Me that looks like a home video someone's mother made with a Sony HandyCam in her basement.

The Mei Mei series of DVDs is really cheap looking. It looks like Mei Mei herself set up a tripod, shot from a cheap videocamera, and edited in the little videocam window (It's almost as bad as my podcasts, but that's a different issue.). The format is a woman named Mei Mei teaching little kids Chinese nursery rhymes and songs. There are no fancy cartoons, no DVD remote gimmicks, no lessons, drills, or cute characters. They don't even have real music. Just a Chinese woman teaching, smiling, clapping, and singing unaccompanied by an other sound.

Mei Mei sings in Chinese and asks the children to repeat. They have a translation flash across the screen, but there's no sing along book or explanation. You just have to pay attention.

My son can't get enough of it. He says, "Ba ba, I want to watch the Chinese one." And then he watches and sings. It's wild. I don't get it. I tried (and failed) to convince him that Language Tree was interesting. But he absolutely loves the Mei Mei Hu DVD. He loves watching the kids onscreen repeat after her when she speaks or sings. He loves singing along with it. I don't even think he's aware of the fact that it's low budget. It reminds me of the times I bought him a fancy high-tech toy car only to watch him play with the box.

The good news is that he's actually learning something from this DVD, something that doesn't take place with Language Tree or Kai Lan. He actually used his Chinese for the first time the other day with an older woman that we met. Maybe because the woman was human and responsive to him, just like Mei Mei and the kids in the Mei Mei series. Go figure.

(Mei Mei, if you're reading this, DON'T change the format. He loves it.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!


photo: Don Quixote by Honoré Daumier.

Happy Father's day, Rice Daddies!

Here's to fatherhood, and how it changes every frakking day.

Rabbit Dragon and Pony Princess are both getting so much older. The school year is over, didn't it just start?

Today at the hardware store we got Rabbit Dragon his first set of house keys. A season ago, house keys had never come to mind. But now we go on family bike rides, and he's always the first to reach home, doing the pee-pee dance while waiting for the lumbering parents and the kid sister to finally pull in and toss over the keys.

It feels so ad hoc, discovering these sort of important decisions on the fly as situations come up. What's next, the Talk? No, no, let me stay in denial a little longer, the kids will always stay kids, yep.

At the kids' first music recital this year (another Rice Daddy rite of passage?) a pair of teenage girls played and sang Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide":

"Time makes you bolder / Even children get older / I'm getting older too."

Maybe I'm just feeling old and creaky this particular weekend, maybe its that the big four-oh is looming. So fellow Rice Daddies, on this Father's day I share a couple of riffs on not going gentle into that good night:

Days With My Father is a beautiful photo journal of Phillip Toledano's father in their last days together. It's really moving, and I've kept it on my browser for over a month to make sure I didn't forget to share it this weekend.

Remember the Geri Chair, is quite a different story, a (true?) tale about a stubborn old Spanish aristocrat, freedom, and a hooker.

When my number is up, I would feel blessed to be remembered fondly like Toledano's dad, but I'd settle for a good story like the Spaniard's.

Happy father's day, all, and many more!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lyrical Feet

cross-posted at Noraebang.

She had asked about dance last year, and even the year before. There were roadblocks before, and sometimes excuses. But, I couldn't sit idly by while time passed and she grew out of the dance phase. She has only one childhood.

Her friends in school were doing it, and she had asked about it again. So finally she got her wish when I signed her up for a month of summer dance camp. They do lyrical, jazz, tap, hip hop, and ballet from 9am - 2:00 pm every day. Her favorite is tap, but primarily because I think she likes the shoes and making noise.

After the first day, I could already tell she was unsure of herself. She sees that a lot of the other girls have already been there before, or that many have taken lessons before. But, she said she liked it and forged on. I kept saying that I just wanted her to have fun, to go out there and do her best.

Each day she'd show me a few steps that she learned, and we practiced singing "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid.

Later in the week, her nerves got the best of her. She was going to be performing in the weekly "talent" show. She hasn't always been one to put herself out there, to assert herself in a new group of people, or to march out in front. She started feeling anxiety like she does when something new happens, or when she's in unfamiliar waters. She's been like that a lot of her life. I've seen those nervous looks before and those anxious moments.

But, I keep encouraging her to try new things, to get her feet wet and dirty, and to take things in stride. She's a kid, and I believe that if kids aren't exposed to new things, they'll often wait until it comes to them. But, to me, life is about nourishment and experience, and very little of that just falls in your lap during the summer.

There are times when I think parents push their kids too much to do something. At the same time, there are parents who don't push enough. I'm not sure which one I am, but I'm afraid I'm the former.

I push her to try new things, to go see new things, and not be scared. I try to teach her that she should at least try something a few times before giving up. And, because she's my daughter, and she loves me, she pushes on. She will do it because she wants to make me happy. And I push her to have fun in new experiences, because I want her to be happy.

Some parents believe that kids should be kids. They need time to play and express themselves and just goof off. However, isn't camp part of being a kid? Each day she gets to express herself, play games, make new friends, and just goof off. At the same time, she's learning something. Not just dance, but poise, conquering fear, pride, and accomplishment.

When I was a child, I was pushed to try things every summer. Art camp, wildlife camp, camping camp, and even grandma camp (I spent almost every summer with my grandmother at the beaches in Texas). Even though there were times I didn't want to go, I went on and on. As I grew up, I took those experiences with me as life lessons. You learn about yourself during summer camp.

At the same time, I lived a life of minor disappointments. I asked for music lessons, and my parents didn't send me. My brother instead got guitar lessons. I asked for a good skateboard, and my parents gave me a cheap Toys r'Us version. My brother instead got a custom deck and wheels. I asked for many things, was told we could do many things, and was often disappointed.

It's part of childhood. There's no such thing as an easy childhood, or the perfect childhood, or the magical childhood. Just take a look at Disney movies, and you'll realize that children face disappointment in many different ways (I know - I shouldn't be praising Disney that much).

At the same time, as a divorced father, I know she's already faced disappointment. It is perhaps that disappointment for which I'm trying to compensate. It is perhaps the disappointments elsewhere she faces that I'm trying to soothe. But, shouldn't I overcompensate rather than not at all?

So for me, this summer has become something not just for her, but also for me. Perhaps it's a bit of me looking back on my own summers as a child. Perhaps it's me trying to be the salve for any disappointments she might have had.

So today she danced away. Her legs leaped across the floor, and tapped away a tune, and even hip hopped from side to side. Today, it was her feet that played on the strings of my heart. It wasn't just for her that I put her in dance camp or art camp; it was for me as a father. And maybe, just maybe, she knows that and will forgive me when she grows up for making her carry the burden of my happiness as a dad.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A couple announcements...

First, to anyone coming to us via NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin, on which I'm privileged to be a member of a dadblogger roundtable for the second June in a row, welcome to Rice Daddies! You can listen to the segment on the NPR website here.

Second, to anyone in the LA area this weekend who is mixed-race, the parent of a mixed-race child, or otherwise interested in multiracial issues, please check out the free, second annual Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in LA's Little Tokyo, Friday June 12 and Saturday June 13. Click thru that link for free registration info and a full schedule of workshops, readings and screenings. Saturday morning features a family event designed for children and their parents, and on Friday at 11:45, I'm proud to be leading a workshop with fellow multiracial parentbloggers Susan Ito (Reading Writing Living) and Liz Dwyer (Los Angelista):

Parentblogging at the Crossroads of Race and Family

Friday 11:45-12:45

Blogging technology has transformed parenting into a public act, with mombloggers and dadbloggers documenting both the big moments and tiny details of their family lives online. How race, culture and politics intersect with parenting, however, often gets glossed over. A growing number of parentbloggers of color and parentbloggers raising children of color are showing that race is a parenting issue. This workshop will explore how multiracial parents and parents of multiracial children can use blogging to record their familial journeys, reflect on important questions, develop their writing voices, and build community at the same time.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Hype it! Up! (WARNING! Spoilers!)

[If you are going to see the movie Up and are the type of person who is sensitive to being told of plot elements ahead of time don’t read any further. Go see the movie, then come back, read and let me know if you agree or not.]

The appeal of Up is its simplicity and universality. There is nothing innovative or new about Up. Its strength is its subtle and artful expression of the oft-told human condition.

Beginning with the familiar shot of a young Carl watching his hero, adventurer Charles Muntz, in a newsreel, 25-feet tall on a movie screen. The hero in classic hero form vows not to return until his innocence is proven. Charles is accused of faking the fossil of a new animal species. He dedicates his life to proving the existence of the species he stumbled upon. Capturing a living specimen becomes Charles’ life ambition. It is his “White Whale.”

The familiar story continues with the young shy Carl meeting and eventually marrying his childhood friend, the more extroverted Ellie, who is also a fan of adventurer Charles Muntz. She keeps a scrapbook of her adventures with plenty of empty pages for the adventures she is yet to have. After a miscarriage (which is handled impressively in a montage of dramatic “daily scenes” without dialogue) Carl promises Ellie one day they will visit exotic Paradise Falls, Muntz’s old stomping grounds. This promise eventually becomes Carl’s “White Whale.”

The Moby Dick analogy is made obvious as both Muntz and Carl take to the skies in “air ships.” Muntz in his an awe-inspiring “Spirit of Adventure,” which I felt was more Jules Verne adaptation than Miyazaki (as noted by Roger Ebert), and Carl in his awkward but endearing little ship – his house (which I suspect was inspired as an homage to his departed Ellie). When Carl and Ellie first met, Ellie was pretending that the very same house (which at the time was decrepit and abandoned) was Muntz’s Spirit of Adventure.

That said. We need an Ishmael. Enter Russell, an unwitting crew member on Carl’s ship. Russell is the youngest character in the cast. His presence singlehandedly balances that of the two older men. A Wilderness Scout with a clichéd desire to please and an innocence strong enough to withstand the cynicism of the two older men, Russell is the Ishmael who provides children (the audience this movie was marketed towards) with access to the story.

An additional appealing feature about Russell is that he is not a clichéd red-headed, freckled American boy but a dark-haired Asian American boy. Dressed in his Wilderness Scout uniform, he reminds me of old photos of interned Japanese American children in the 1940s and 50s, dressed in Boy Scout uniforms.

The comic relief that Russell provides as a bumbling all-too-eager-to-please child is artfully tempered with the subtle revelation that he is the product of divorced parents who no longer sees his father regularly. I was taken by the way this was revealed – Not in direct dialogue but through a well worded response to a simple question.

A friend asked if I were offended as an Asian American that the sole Asian character (and he only appears to be Asian. There is no direct mention of his ethnic heritage) is portrayed as a bumbler? The implications of Russell’s “Asianness” and his portrayal as a bumbler had not occurred to me before then.

Here’s my question: Is it better to have an Asian character playing an Asian role or a character who happens to be Asian playing a significant role?

Today’s audience is the post-Jackie Chan generation. He has created an international and historic niche for himself in film by playing the bumbler. Among the differences between this decade and the score past is the availability of images and information. If not here in the US, diverse portrayals of Asians are available online to help develop a more complete picture of being Asian.

I haven’t made up my mind regarding roles. However, it does not change my mind about the movie. Up is a really well choreographed film about getting old and questioning the degree of your life’s pursuits. It asks the question: At what cost? At what cost are you willing to pay to succeed? Or perhaps better phrased: At whose expense are you willing to take to succeed?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Come celebrate Secret Identities with some Rice Daddies!

What, some might say, does a comic book about Asian American superheroes have to to with fatherhood? The editors of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology might just say, "Everything."

The editors of Secret Identities, which came out last month and is in the middle of a cross-country publicity tour, set out to do more than just tell interesting comics stories with Asian American protagonists and to rectify the dearth of Asian American characters on the page. Remembering both their childhood love for the form and what it would have meant to them, as children, to have seen themselves reflected back in four-color panels, they set out to leave a legacy to their children, and to all our children, so that they don't feel the same lack of fictional role models, of possibilities, of their own places and faces in the potentialities of the fantastic.

In short, they did it because they were dads now. Jeff Yang, our own InstantYang, is the father of two. Keith Chow, our own RakuMon, is the father of one. And Parry Shen, best known for turning the model minority myth on its head in Better Luck Tomorrow, is the father of two (and if we ask nice enough, maybe he'll join us here too!). One of Parry's own stories in the book, Sixteen Miles, was inspired by the superhuman strength displayed by the late James Kim in trying to save his family.

I am honored and proud to play a small part in the book, as author of the one-page introduction to the section that features full-color character treatments of characters created by Asian American celebrities, called "Many Masks." (Which you can find on page 128, in case you were wondering, heh.) And I am happy to be joining the editors and many of my co-contributors at events in Los Angeles this weekend.

The big LA launch party is on Saturday, May 30, at 6:30 p.m., at the Japanese American National Museum, but there are a bunch of readings/signings throughout the weekend and throughout the Southland. (I'll be at the JANM event tomorrow and at Skylight Books in Los Feliz tonight, Friday, May 29, at 7:30.) You can check out the full schedule here and revisit the book blog for updates on upcoming events, including an Asian American comics convention in July at the new Museum of the Chinese in America in New York City. So come pick up a copy for your bookshelf, and for your children's bookshelf, and get it signed and drawn on by some awesome artists!

[And for any new readers surfing in from NYTimes.com and DoubleX/Slate, welcome!]




Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Little Dragon, Long Shadow

I’m a sucker for Bruce Lee documentaries. Not because I am a kung fu practitioner or even a big fan of his movies. It’s because he took on the stereotypes of the Chinese in Western pop culture and won. The impact his fame has had on my personal life is awe inspiring.

It’s not easy to stand up to Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. Scores of discrimination and biased dramatizations perpetrated by Hollywood (the ruler by which filmmaking and more importantly promotion across the globe are measured) are guaranteed to leave an indelible print on the global social fabric. It is even harder for an actor to have his accomplishments resonate beyond the industry and through time. Bruce Lee managed to do that and more amazingly he managed to do it in a relatively short period of time.

According to the documentary that inspired this post, the History Channel’s How Bruce Lee Changed the World, Bruce Lee only made four movies – and only one of them in English! Bruce Lee as icon, as persona is so ingrained in me that I never considered the particulars of his life and career. He was only 32 when he died.

What was admirable about the History Channel documentary was it attempted to begin a conversation about Bruce Lee’s impact outside of martial arts and the entertainment industry. Margaret Cho, Eddie Griffin, LL Cool J, and RZA were among the people interviewed. RZA segments pepper the film. He makes some interesting statements about Bruce’s social impact and there is a long segment about his producing the soundtrack to Afro Samurai which is like his homage to Bruce.

What I wish the filmmakers would have done is to interview more community organizers and non-celebrities. Though it’s mentioned Bruce Lee inspired Asians and non-Asians alike in a variety of careers, no one outside of the entertainment industry or martial arts was interviewed. Not only would this have been novel but it would have drawn attention to the importance of Bruce Lee as social catalyst.

As an Asian American parent raising two boys in America, Bruce Lee is essential. It’s something Kareem Abdul Jabbar said in a different documentary. He said that Bruce was uniquely American because he drew inspiration from a lot of different cultures and sources. He also said that Bruce Lee stood up for the “little guy.”

As a father I want my boys to be proud of their Asian heritage but also open to the beauty that other cultures and races have to offer. I also want them to be understanding and tolerant of the uglier side of these same cultures. I would like my boys to be willing to stick their neck out to help a stranger. I am a big believer of social ills being viral. It is only a matter of time before you and the ones you love get infected, if you do not do anything to cure the disease.

Bruce Lee as an icon and persona provides my boys with a positive self image of being Asian and male in America. I’m even going to say that his image is more pervasive now than those of Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. He took them on and won.

Unlike my generation, my children will not suffer the pervasive images of Asian subservience and impotence. While I am sure those images will always exist in Western culture, my children have the benefit of a very weighty counterbalance in the legacy of Bruce Lee.

But there is a drawback to Bruce’s success and stature. More than once in my life, Bruce’s signature battle cry has been imitated in my presence to mock and devalue me. Black and White alike have attempted to turn Bruce into a negative Asian stereotype.

And for a while it worked. I distanced myself from Bruce Lee as much as I could. In middle school I had the opportunity to study karate and I turned it down despite really wanting to join the class. The taunting I had gotten fueled my desire to adopt what I perceived as unquestionably American as quickly as possible regardless of the costs.

The costs are illiteracy in my parents’ language and a certain disassociation with my extended family. Everyday I struggle with the choices I was allowed as a child and the ones I made when I initially entered adulthood. I have tried several times to rectify my past ignorance but it is hard. I have tried several times to learn to read and write Chinese. Each time foiled by distractions and the responsibilities that come with age. I have even taken a class with Sifu Shi Yan Ming at the US Shaolin Temple. He was among the martial artists interviewed in the History Channel documentary. Again foiled by time and age.

I keep trying though. And that’s how Bruce Lee changed my world. Regardless of my failures and shortcomings as a writer, an educator, and parent. I keep trying. And I believe I am free enough of ego to reflect critically and adjust my actions accordingly in pursuit of the mastery of my craft (parent, writer, educator) just like Bruce.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Homework Daddy

Since the divorce, I've been the primary homework helper. I spend time nearly every day reviewing work with her, checking on her progress, making suggestions on projects, and reading books. I was this way even before the divorce, but it seems to have become more intense after the divorce.

So, for two full school years now, I've had the opportunity to see her develop reading skills, math skills, writing skills, and critical thinking skills. I can see, hear, and intuit learning curves, learning deficits, and learning excellence.

However, there are two things I've noticed over these past two school years.

1. I'm a typical Asian dad with high expectations of success and perfection for my daughter.
2. Homework is getting longer and more complex without much reason.

In the past several years (2000 - current) several books and studies have been published relating to the issue of homework. Japan, the so-called leader of education, has even eliminated homework for elementary school children.

So why are American children seemingly doing more and more? Could it be our school year is shorter? Our classes less intense? Our standards just lower?

I'd probably argue it is a combination of these things, along with the notion that "grades" are the only indicator of success. The failed "No Child Left Behind" system of rewarding grades has completely screwed up any teacher's notion of creativity for younger children. Yes, elementary school kids still get to do fun things and projects and arts and crafts, but in a seemingly illogical way that puts the onus of teaching on the parent, rather than the teacher.

This past week, I helped Noodle create a butterfly habitat. The directions weren't specific, didn't have a "rubric" and didn't seem to indicate anything more than a few questions and a due date.

At first, I wondered what she meant when she said she had to create a butterfly habitat. I thought perhaps I'd have to find a huge water jug, drop in some plants, some water, put on a screen, and find a caterpillar.

However, Noodle informed me that other kids had to make habitats for pandas, cheetahs, and rattlesnakes. I figured those kids wouldn't be bringing in wild animals like that, so I was safe with a fake diorama of a butterfly world.

Anyway, besides making the project (about a two hours), and writing about it (20 minutes), and researching it (10 minutes), and doing the daily writing (10 minutes), Noodle probably put in three hours of work and planning for the diorama.

She's in first grade. While she did learn a lot about butterflies beyond what she already knew from Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the project was complex enough to warrant parental involvement.

And this is where I begin to wonder, what are they teaching in schools these days?

Nevermind that I am a teacher. But, I am wondering what they do in elementary school or even middle school. As a teacher, I am privy to incoming freshmen test scores. You know those entrance exams for placement are also used as indicators of a middle school's success in "teaching" children.

I've seen test scores on reading and writing as low as 19. That's right. 19 out of 100.

I don't mean this is an anomaly, but the low range seems to be between 20 and 40. I've also seen test scores very high, but not as often as I see low scores. Doesn't this seem to indicate that the children who are graduating from "A+" schools aren't actually learning anything beyond taking the state's standardized test? Give them a different type of test and suddenly they can't answer basic questions.

So, what's the solution? Teach "how" to learn, not "what" to learn. For example, if you show a child how they can figure something out, they are more likely to be able to solve similar problems later on. But, again, to what extent and how much?

Does a child need homework? Yes, and no.

Yes, because in American schools, there is very little time to teach everything a child is expected to learn within the single school year. And let's face it, we aren't going to make much change in this standardized testing thing until colleges decide they won't use it as an indicator of entrance.

No, because significant evidence suggests that in young children (K - 5) homework has a near zero affect on end grades on tests. That's right. Near Zero.

If you gave children no homework and kept their daily activities the same, they score virtually the same on tests as they did if you gave them homework. So why do we need to give young children homework?

Work ethic. It actually seems only to serve as early conditioning to value hard work and regular good study habits that can carry them through middle school and high school and beyond. And this is where parental involvement comes back.

I know that if a parent doesn't care, nor do they help with homework or read, the child is more likely to suffer in school. Not only because of a lack of reinforcement of school material, but because the child is "learning" that older people they care about dont "value" education. If a parent isn't involved, how can you expect a child to be involved?

But, if this is the only reason for homework, why assign so much to young children? I know of other teachers at my school with young children who complain that their child had nearly one hour of homework each night. One hour for a 3rd grader seems a bit extreme.

At the same time, I know that without practice, Noodle sometimes falters. And there is where my Asian Dad Syndrome kicks in and I drill her for an additional five minutes on a type of problem, a word, or some other thing.

So, to homework or not to homework? And, wasn't this the most ramblingest blog post from me you've ever seen?

Blog Photos of Noodle's Project