Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Santa Cause: Imagination

Listening to my children play superheroes:

My eldest says to my youngest: You can’t do that! He doesn’t have that power!

My youngest responds: We can pretend he does.

My eldest responds: That’s silly then it wouldn’t be real!

It sort of stabbed me in the heart. I was raised on the Isle of Can’t -

Don’t be silly! You can’t be a writer! Chinese aren’t writers! Be an accountant!

Don’t be stupid! You can’t be a baseball player! Chinese aren’t baseball players! Be smart! Be a lawyer!

I worked hard to instill “possibility” in my children. So where did I fail? When did they move onto the Isle of Can’t?

Two of my favorite holiday movies are Miracle on 34th Street and Bass and Rankin’s The Year Without a Santa Claus because they address issues of the imagination - What we tell our children they are too old to do anymore.

In parenting, because I believe we would rather be safe than sorry, our kids hit a certain age and it seems the very same make believe world that made them adorable makes them frustrating, impractical, and possibly impossible.

Somewhere along the course of our maturity, we devalued a vivid imagination. My favorite example of the power of a great imagination is the Wright Brothers, who without formal scientific training did what the many experts in their time could not – or worse believed was impossible! They flew. Something we take for granted today.

I think this time of year in particular it is important to cherish a really good imagination. In this season it’s easy to get lost at the store or the mall. So many people you need to buy for. It’s easy to confuse what’s really valuable about getting together for the holidays.

Church’s words to Virginia remain poignant despite the progress we’ve made through the years:

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fatherhood: Imagine 30 Years on Today

Writing about the 30th Anniversary of John Lennon’s murder I came across a somewhat snide Bloomberg article by Mark Beech who asked his readers to “imagine there was no shooting.”

Imagining John Lennon was never shot is a good thing – Imagining nobody getting shot is even better -  But Beech’s imagination belittles John for choosing fatherhood over the music business.

He writes:

On the sugary “Double Fantasy” LP, he told his son Sean “I can hardly wait to see you come of age,” a line now heavy with irony -- at the time just cringe-worthy.

The best hope is that some headline or another would have shaken Lennon’s complacency and fueled feverish bursts of music.

I am reminded of something I heard Jessica Hagedorn say years ago when asked how motherhood had impacted her writing. I forget the exactly how the question was phrased. However, I remember how she replied. She said it made her much more conscious of time and how she spent it. It made practical sense back then when I was single and childless. Now a parent myself still wanting to pursue my own writing her statement becomes much more meaningful.

A good friend reminded me when I bemoaned self-pityingly about how I’ve let my own artistic pursuits fall to the wayside that being a good dad is probably the most challenging but definitely the most rewarding artistic pursuit. And I’ve come to learn just how right she was. I haven’t felt anything as exhilarating as when my children take my hand.

Beech is right. John might have fallen out of the public light. But he is wrong in assuming that John would have given up his writing and his music. Fatherhood changed the paradigm I use to assign value to things - including the grudges I keep and those I abandon. I imagine it would have done the same for John. Holding my children’s hand to cross the street or staying up with them when they’re sick gives life new perspective and meaning.

I know Sean isn’t his first child but his life as father to Sean and his life as father to Julian are quite different. The main difference being he was older and more experienced when Sean was born. So I concede to Beech that John had “mellowed” at the time of his death.

Most enticing was the prospect of a Beatles reunion. Paul McCartney, carrying a guitar, showed up at the Dakota during Lennon’s “househusband” years and was turned away. John was baking bread and looking after the baby.

Like Beech it’s easy for me to imagine John as a “househusband” but in my scenario he doesn’t turn Paul away. He invites this very important person from his past in and they bake together and play a song for the baby afterwards. They talk about the past, the chores of the present, and the potential in the future.

I imagine John drawing from the best interpreted influences – European, American, and Asian. I imagine he would have pioneered the current real world social trend of empowered Stay-At-Home dads.

The Today Show ran a series of stories on Stay-At-Home dads in their Parenting section. One of the reoccurring messages is that Stay-At-Home fathers are as able to raise their children as the Stay-At-Home mom. And that it isn’t a novelty. It’s natural. Like Rice Daddy Jason Sperber says in his Today Show segment: “It’s not babysitting. It’s called parenting.”

Just a dad celebrating time with his son.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday egg rolls

Shanghai style eggrolls under construction

Happy holidays, Rice Daddies!

It’s that time of year already, and its been a while since I’ve blogged about my favorite rice daddy topic: great food!  After all, nothing connects you to a culture more than eating your way through it.  Also, an old high school friend recently emailed me for a recipe (hi JS), so I thought this would be the best forum for sharing it.

This recipe almost, almost brings me all the way back to family holidays when I was a kid, where the table was always loaded with an overfull plate of my Shanghainese grandmother’s eggrolls.  I didn’t get this recipe straight from her, but its fairly close to what I remember, and good enough where we have them on special occasions in the thisislarry household.  I invite you to enjoy some this holiday season, and bring a little bit of Shanghai to your table:

    Shanghai style eggrolls
    Makes around 2 dozen

    1 package egg roll wrappers. Thin kind is the best
    2 lb pork, julienned
    1lb shrimp, coarsely chopped, can be precooked
    10 shitake mushrooms, destemmed and thinly sliced, can be dried mushrooms resoaked
    1 medium head of napa cabbage, julienned
    4-8 oz glass noodles, soaked to soften, then drained, and very coarsely chopped.
    Salt, garlic salt, pepper, soy sauce to taste.   

    1. Sauté the pork & shrimp together until both are cooked, drain the liquid.
    2. Sauté the napa cabbage and mushroom until the cabbage is cooked.  Press out ALL the liquid.
    3. Toss together the meats, veggies, glass noodles.  Drain any remaining liquid.
    4. Season to taste.  I use about 1t salt, 1t soy, 1/2t pepper.
    5. Wrap em up, fry em up, eat em up!  I like mine with sambal olek & soy, or mustard! 

    Note: draining the filling is crucial, otherwise the eggrolls will leak and come apart while frying.

Alright, get your holiday eats on, everybody!   And, please, if you've got some holiday recipes that would make my grandmother jealous, let me know, I'm hungry already!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

So I Must Kill You!

While cleaning the house, I found this book that my parents brought back from a trip to Asia as a gift for my kids. Either something's lost in translation, or children's stories in Hong Kong are just straight-up hardcore:

"In a hot summer day, there was a little thirsty lamb drinking water in the river."

"A wolf was passing by the river, too. He felt so happy when he saw the lamb."

"The wolf said to the lamb: 'I can't drink clean water because you make the river dirty. So I must kill you!'"

"The frightened lamb explained: 'Can't you drink clean water as you stay at the upper stream?'"

"The wolf replied angrily: 'I know you always spoke ill of me last year. So I must kill you!'"

"The little lamb argued: 'Mr. Wolf, I was not yet born last year!'"

"The wolf said impatiently: 'Your master and friends all want to kill me. Isn't it true?'"

"The little lamb still wanted to argue. But the fierce wolf had already pounced upon and ate him."


The moral of the story: Lamb is super-tasty.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I had dinner with someone recently who complained that her mother was not supportive of her life decisions. I pointed out that everyone else around her (personally and professionally) believed she was making smart strategic decisions about her life. She said something to the effect of: “I know but it would just be nice if she (her mother) supported me too. After all she is my mother.”

I was reminded of an incident between my eldest son and me. It happened several years ago at a Christmas party. Without reliving the uncomfortable details, it was a situation where I took someone else’s word over his. The incident is a poignant one for me because as it turned out my son was right and I realized the devastating impact my doubts can have on my children.

I have since ceased believing in absolutes and my own infallibility. Being a parent does not automatically validate advice as being good or opinion as being informed. It does however stress the necessity of open minds and open ears for both fathers and their children. I failed as a father that Christmas. I failed to listen as I’ve often told my son to do. And I forsook the fact that my children “know” things too. In fact, they might just know more than us “Grown Ups,” as their unfettered minds absorb the many new and exciting experiences from the burgeoning world around them.

When did it happen? When did we become so dull, gray, and “grown up”? I can’t help wondering about the tipping point. When was it where I became so “Grown Up” and closed up and stop considering the infinite possibilities of living and just settled for the simply finite ones tethered to the observable world? And what pushed me over that edge?

I remember it was somewhere around high school/late middle school my father became obsessed with telling me I had “to respect the reality.”  I remember how stubbornly I clung to my dreams – my beliefs – my idealism then. The Christmas incident showed me just how misplaced my values had become. I valued the grown up notion of being right over listening to someone important to my very being itself.

Digging around the Web and Googling, I couldn’t find anything on the direct impact of parental doubt on a child. However, there were several resources on addressing self doubt and if you liken to parental doubt to failure there was an abundance of information on that. Most articles on failure that 'I’ve come across focus on the restoration of confidence like this Parent Zone article, “Handling Fear Of Failure in Children,” and this Associated Content article, “Help Your Children Deal With Failure.” I even found this video on the On the Ball Parenting Blog:

I couldn’t find any direct advice on when a parent is wrong or the impact of parental doubt but I would imagine a post on the subject would offer the same advice on restoring confidence as the articles on failure. It might also offer advice on restoring trust.

“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived” that’s the closing statement of the video. After I learned I was wrong I apologized immediately to my son that Christmas night. I told my dinner companion what I wish I would have said to my son.

I told my companion that sometimes as parents we get so caught up in the ways we’ve been seriously hurt that we’ll do anything to keep our children from having even remotely similar experiences (even though quite rationally there is very little we can do to control the experiences our children will have).

I told my companion that regardless whether her mother understood the decisions she has made, I am certain her mother is proud of her regardless of the path she’s chosen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Swearing In

I am Nels. Some of you may know of my web site, AArisings. I'm a father of two children - a son who is 7 years old and a daughter who is 4 years old. This is my first entry on Rice Daddies.

During the summer, the big buzz in the music world was Cee-Lo Green's song "F**k You." I shared the catchy song and video via YouTube with my wife because I thought she would get a kick out of it. We were in our home office watching the video while the kids were playing together in the living room. Every so often the kids would pop into the office to see what we were doing and my wife would quickly stop the video so that the kids' virgin ears would not be exposed to the F-bomb. Little did we know that our son would be exposed to the F-bomb in other ways, however.

Last month my son and I were sitting on the couch when he declared, "I know a bad word."

I replied "oh really? What is the word?" thinking it would be something like the word "stupid" or "idiot" or even "fat" (which we had declared a not-so-nice word when referring to people).

He said "it starts with F," to which I was sure he was thinking of the word "fat." But then continued spelling the word with "U-C-K."

For a moment, I was speechless but then put my eyes back into their sockets and immediately reacted with a "that really is a bad word! You should not say that word." My son shelved that discussion away quickly after that, as if he had never spelled the word.

Since that time I've thought about the moment and thought about my own moment when I first dropped the F-bomb in front of my mother when I was 10 years old. My mother's reaction was to yell and scold me verbally for using the word. That made me fearful of using the word at home but surely did not stop me from using the word at school with my friends around. In fact, it encouraged me to use it even more outside of the home. There was a time between when I was 10 and 18 where I probably dropped the F-bomb many thousands of times. But something around the time when I finished high school made me realize that I was really using the F-bomb much-too-much and since then I've used it quite sparingly, opting for other less incendiary words to express my own frustrations.

I doubt my son, all of 7 years old, will have that same sort of enlightenment any time soon but I do wonder if he'll end up using the word more now that I've told him it is not appropriate to use. Ultimately, it is a word and really I think the lesson to teach my son is that the word is fraught with meaning and emotions which often make it a word best used, if at all, sparingly.

As a father, the simple response is always to tell a child not to do or say something, but really does a child ever really listen to that warning? The way I see it, my responsibility doesn't end there. I have a duty to, at the very least, share the lessons I've learned with my children and to teach them the value and meaning of words, even if it is the F-bomb.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Like a 4-Banger

Quick plug to a thing I did for KQED yesterday. It's a "Perspective" on the Far East Movement and the song "Like a G6." It's about waiting our lives to experience this moment to see Asian folks on the charts but being too damn old to appreciate it fully. :)

On a side note, it's inspiring how our kids will grow up in a time when it's completely normal to have a black president and to see Asian folks on the top of the charts. It definitely wasn't like this during my youth, let alone five years ago.

Speaking of, an old family friend phoned my mom after hearing it. I haven't heard from the friend in like 35 years! Take that new media!

Enjoy! And don't autotune me! :)

UPDATE: The Original Rice Don Dada and homey Poppa Large weighs in on FM at the LA Times.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

NYCC 2010: Marvel Superhero Squad


Once a year I indulge myself (and my kids) in spandex and uwangis at the annual New York Comic Con (NYCC). It’s a fun distraction for me to consider the longevity of some of my favorite heroes and learn about new ones. If I had to pick a single highlight from this year’s NYCC, it would have to be Marvel’s Superhero Squad.

In addition to the usual video game offerings (new Spiderman and X-Men games and new Captain America and Thor games), Spring 2011 will mark the beta test of Marvel’s first MMO: Superhero Squad Online. My kids and I had a chance to play the beta at this year’s NYCC.

Choosing to target a younger audience for its first MMO is an admirable choice. There are unique challenges to producing an online experience for younger audiences. There are issues of safety, age appropriate content and situations that you do not have with a teenage audience. There are also issues of engagement outside of the immediate action. Is the objective of the play engaging enough to maintain the desire to play? What a teenager values can be vastly different from what a 12 year old or 6 year old values.

The Superhero Squad MMO follows the traditional objectives of collecting ”things” - coins and objects and team members - with the added dimension of being interactive. While the play may be single player, we all participate in the experience like raging fans or backseat drivers. We root each other on and shout out directions and choices at each other. The experience is sometimes frustrating for my youngest because he has not developed the hand-eye coordination or the coordination to work multiple buttons.

From what I saw, where the Superhero Squad MMO succeeds is its simplification of physical play for the younger members in its primary target audience (boy ages 6 –12). My youngest had none of the frustration he usually does playing a videogame. As an educator, I see plenty of opportunities to enhance the learning in the Superhero Squad MMO and am curious to see if the development team at Gazillion pursues them.

One of the points the Superhero Squad Gazillion panel made consistently was the environment of the MMO provided great potential and flexibility for growth. The educator in me wonders if the growth includes increasing complexity in the physical play as players traverse to higher levels? The educator in me also wonders if the cognitive complexity of the play will also increase as players move up levels?

The parent in me wonders if the storyline for the game play will address the real world social challenges of being pre-teen like the current epidemic of bullying? I wrote more about Marvel’s MMO and the NYCC at Cranial Gunk. Click Here to read it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

ABCs v. FOBs in Flushing Queens

Last week on WNYC, there was this very cute story by Rookie Reporter Helen Peng, on her observations of the differences and occasional conflicts between ABCs (American Born Chinese) and FOBs (Fresh Off the Boat). I'm not Chinese, nor have I had the chance to check out Flushing, so I was surprised to learn about the differences between the various waves of immigration within the Chinese-American community.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Challenge Update: 2 new proposals added

HOLY CRAP, would you believe that it's been almost TWO YEARS since we added some new proposals to the RiceDaddies Empowerment in Diversity Challenge? Since that time, all of our educational proposals have either been fully funded, or have expired.
I'm not even gonna try to make up any excuses for why I dropped the ball on this. Anyway, this morning ThisisLarry finally gave me the kick in the butt needed to update our Challenge.
The following two proposals are currently in need of funding:

Help Us Learn About The World's Cultures Through Art! (Asia)
- New York, NY - Grades 6-8 - Poverty Data Unavailable -
"The resources requested include books and art supplies that are to aid us in our exploration of ASIA. Our first assignment is going to be to read the book A Thousand Paper Cranes, and try to make just that to display in our school."
Peacebuilding in Middle School - Race to Understand Race
- Ventura, California - Grades 6-8 - Poverty Moderate -
"I am requesting 35 copies of the graphic novel "American Born Chinese." By reading this fun, high interest novel, students will have opportunities to explore how it feels to be seen as different. Students learn to empathize with others and they will have opportunities to explore how they see themselves, as well."
Launched in June 2007, the RiceDaddies Empowerment in Diversity Challenge aims to mitigate the marginalizing effects of diversity-negligent pop culture and media by funding innovative educational programs that do the following:
  • Promote positive images of ourselves for our children
  • Promote positive images of ourselves for other people and their children
  • Develop skills in our children that empower them to be leaders in the world in which we live
  • Promote pride in one's culture instead of shame
  • Promote self-respect and appreciation for others like ourselves
  • Develop our children's ability to use their imaginations in an empowering way
  • Encourage our children to be who they truly are

Help underprivledged kids in NYC enjoy "American Born Chinese"

Update: Rice Daddies rule!  Less than 5 hours after this post went out, the project is funded -that's like $20 an hour!  Take THAT Malcolm Gladwell!

Now let's keep the ball rolling!

Hey Rice Daddies, excuse the intrusion, its just Thisislarry rising from limbo.  I was on Donorschoose.org and came across this funding project from Ms H. at a high-poverty school in NYC:

"My Project: I am asking for a set of Gene Luen Yang's fantastic graphic novel American Born Chinese to complement our year long study of outsiders and fitting in. We are also reading The Outsiders, House on Mango Street, Romeo and Juliet and Enders' Game. This novel would fit in wonderfully with the them, as well as introduce students to graphic novels. I would weave in elements of the theme and encourage students to see the connection between pictures and words. Students will be asked to compose their own graphic story upon completion of the novel."

I personally loved ABC, and so does my son, another ABC.  I think it would be awesome to put this story in front of more kids, and I'm supporting this project on Donorschoose.

Ms H's class is less than $100 away from their goal, can we help them get there?

OK, back to limbo, peace out!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tell Me More: Dad as Teacher

There was an interesting discussion on NPR's Tell Me More about fathers getting involved in their children's education. I didn't respond in time to be on air but wrote a post accompanying the segment.

After the fact, I began thinking about the things my dad taught me. I love my father but we don't exactly have a Brady Bunch type relationship. I wondered how much of my relationship with my father is cultural - traditional and/or pop - and how much is just personality?

Sunday, August 22, 2010


[Cross Posted at Cranial Gunk.]

I’ve been calling it my “succumbing to mid-life crisis” purchase (in addition to the electric guitar). For my birthday this year I bought myself a Playstation 3 (or as the young people refer to it – a PS3).

I convinced myself that the PS3 was more than just a video game console – like the ads say “It Only Does Everything” –

My “investment” in a PS3 game console was a “family” purchase as well as being a money saving “investment” because I wouldn’t need a Blu-Ray player, a DVD player, or a CD player. It connects to the Internet and with only some difficulty can be networked to play music, video, and image files via WiFi from my laptop. And using a DVD that Netflix sent me over the mail, I can stream movies – This month Netflix is streaming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

A child of the Pong generation – teen of the Pac Man era - I am easily awed by the sophistication of PS3 games in play, storytelling, and cinematic presentation (just to name a few). We have a Wii and it was exciting at the time but the PS3 has broadened our (the kids and me) gaming experiences.

I am not a hardcore gamer. My understanding of videogames and the surrounding “culture” is an amalgamation of whatever I manage to glean from G4 and talking the guys behind the counter at my local Game Stop. I am enjoying learning the language and the aesthetic expectations they have for a “good game.”

One of the games I kept hearing positive things about before I bought our PS3 was Little Big Planet. It was one of the first games I bought and has turned out to be a great game! Like a Nintendo Mii (but better), the game’s central character, Sack Boy, is amazingly customizable – and it’s dynamic! – you don’t have to leave the game for a different screen to change your Sack Boy’s facial expressions - that’s how much control you have over the character!

While extensive character customization is cool and fun, it is the ability to customize the environment and create your own levels and share them that lifts Little Big Planet from “good to great.” (I’m referencing the Jim Collins’ book here.)

The game is also great because for the kids and I (casual gamers at best) it is hard enough to be challenging, while not being frustrating (we never get stuck at a level long enough to give up… at least we haven’t yet). And the controls are pretty manageable. Being from the Atari Generation and estranged by the ColecoVision, I am easily confounded by all of the buttons on the controllers.

The PS3 has unarguably seen much more play than my electric guitar. And it certainly has fulfilled its promise of being a “family” purchase. Sony has joined with the MacArthur Foundation to host a National STEM Game Design Competition - “Sony will participate in one segment of the competition and encourage the development of new games that build on the existing popular video game Little Big Planet.” So I guess you could view my purchasing a PS3, as my preparing my kids for academic success.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Preorders for the iPhone 4 in South Korea were so overwhelming Wednesday that they brought down the servers of carrier KT Corp., which sold 130,000 handsets by 7 p.m. local time. Interestingly enough, this article indicates that Koreans due to their cultural upbringing don't really like to blab:


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mnemonic Rocks

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

Even before my eldest could write proper words, I made him keep a journal. I was inspired by a friend of ours whose daughter (same age as my eldest) kept a sketchbook diary – images of events she felt were important to record. Every week I would ask him to “write” – usually a picture or invented words (spelling) - about something good that happened and something bad. Or he would be asked to draw something after a “special outing” – a trip to his grandmother’s, a trip to the zoo, a friend’s birthday party, etc.

My eldest knows words now but despite my starting early still has trouble putting them together and figuring out where to start. I wonder if it is really from a lack of something to say or not wanting to contend with the challenge of where to start? OR just a general lack of interest? (I am careful not to push him into my mold – just because I enjoy writing, doesn’t mean he does.)

He likes to read but writing is troubling for him – despite my “spelling doesn’t matter right now” approach. He’ll draw pictures – comic strips chronicling his days and thoughts but he’ll struggle for something to write when asked to write without the benefit of pictures.

Digging around the Internet for resources I came across this 2008 Rocky Mountain News article putting forth this scenario:

Put a blank sheet of paper in front of a girl and ask her to write about three things she did over the summer. She might think it's a dumb assignment, but she'll do it.

A boy, on the other hand, might go blank as he struggles to assign words to complex scenes and emotions. But let the boy draw a picture of his memories first, then hand him a pen. The words just might flow.

That’s my son! – struggling “to assign words to complex scenes and emotions!”

While I do not agree entirely with all of the teachers’ opinions on the issue, I do believe in gross generalization girls are better at communicating complex emotions than boys. I would add that this phenomena has its roots far deeper than the 21st Century classroom – it’s cultural and it’s social.

However, I don’t buy into the argument that girls are better decoders and more patient than boys. Again, it is a result of socialization and upbringing. I do agree that girls and boys learn differently – In fact, I believe how children learn is partially genetic and partially a result of environment.

Do you remember your first words? The first words you strung into a phrase, a question, or statement? The first sentence you wrote?

I can barely remember the first book I read on my own. I have no recollection of my first sentence. I only remember that it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began keeping a journal. It was mostly poetry that rhymed. My sister had been writing her journal since middle school. There was a poem or two but it was mostly very overt thoughts and emotions.

I think there is a reason my sister was comfortable with straightforwardly stating the facts, whereas I used rhyme. I am very susceptible to ear worms - Not the kind your dog might get but the kind that you might get when you find yourself humming a song you wouldn’t readily admit to liking.

This can be a curse socially – I drove my wife to the brink of insanity once when Brtiney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” got stuck in my head for two weeks. But in retrospect it also works as a blessing because it helps me remember things – phone numbers, screen names, passwords, and school facts like the multiplication table and the Preamble to the Constitution

There is a lot of writing available about using songs as a mnemonic technique. But just putting facts to music isn’t enough. The song has to be “good” - Good meaning it has to be catchy and include enough important facts on the subject to be useful. That’s what Schoolhouse Rock did well – And what it’s still doing every time I count change or put together a budget.

It is still too early to tell whether the Schoolhouse Rock songs about grammar and punctuation have made my eldest a better writer. However, he enjoyed the songs so much I recently ordered the 30th Anniversary DVD. I also bought a CD of Schoolhouse Rock covers.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of ending this post with two of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pass the Peas

I always knew this day would come but nothing prepares you for when it actually does. The above picture is our 5-year-old son Maceo posting up with funk legend, and his name source, Maceo Parker. A nice security guard hooked us up with the privilege of a face-to-face with a musical icon.

These things could turn out disastrous (I feel bad for all the kids named after Mikes Tyson or Jordan) but Maceo P. was a solid stand-up cat and couldn't have been nicer. He expressed delight over young Maceo's shirt (an $18 custom job that references Maceo & the Macks' funk gem "Soul Power '74"; it says MACEO 74 soccer-style on the back). They shook hands, we took a couple of silly snaps, and gave him dap.

Our Maceo got a day to savor his name being announced repeatedly over the loudspeaker and watch another Maceo tear it up. We got our 2010 Christmas card pic and a lasting memento to frame in his room.

Pass the peas! Thanks Maceo!


Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Deferred

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

I grew up among a handful of Chinese families in Hollis, Queens. I have been mugged three times in my neighborhood. When I was 12, two or three kids around my age tackled me off my bike, kicked me, told me: “This is our neighborhood! Go back to China you Fuckin’ Chink!” They rode off on my bike, celebrating and Hi-fiving.

When I was 14 or 15, three kids asked me for a quarter. When I said I didn’t have any money on me (which was true, I had just stepped out to pick my mother up at the subway station), I was hit from behind and pushed to the ground. On the ground, one kid pounded my head on the concrete pavement, while another rifled through my pockets. They were angry that I was telling the truth – I had no money. As they left me dizzy and bloodied on the ground, I heard one kid scold another: What the Fuck, man? I thought you said they all had money.”

After college - and failing to make it on my own – I moved back into my father’s house. Coming home in the wee hours (I think it was 2AM), two men approached me. I thought they wanted cigarettes. They wanted money. I only had five dollars on me. I offered them the wrinkled bill. They got angry and beat me. When they rifled through my pockets and found out I was telling the truth, they left me on the ground and bloodied, laughing: “Shit Nigga! You broker than me!”

That night they took my wallet. It had irreplaceable family photos. Over the years, other members of my family have also been victimized by muggers. In all the instances the assailants were black.

Having had these painful experiences it would be easy for me to become bigoted and believe all black people were street thugs and criminals – especially having grown up through the generation of Gangsta Rap that celebrated violence and victimization.

But I don’t.

I don’t because – having been judged myself - I know it is wrong to judge an entire people based on the actions of a few. I don’t because growing up in America I am shaped by the “Black Experience.” For every black mugger there are two or more black artists or social activists who have inspired me to dream bigger dreams despite the expectations that come with stereotypes and social biases.

Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Mother Hale – are just some of the people – black people – who have inspired me to do more inside and outside my social sphere.

When the Anti Defamation League (ADL) implies it is OK to be bigoted because you have suffered an emotional loss -

“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he [Foxman] said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

It is particularly upsetting for me because it is the temptation I fight the hardest whenever I read about blacks victimizing Asians like at South Philadelphia High School. Adding to my disappointment is my admiration of the ADL for expending the resources to extend its campaign against anti-Semitism to a broader campaign against bigotry (including post 9/11 anti-Islamic sentiment).

I do not have the words – nor do I ever want the words – to describe the pain of losing someone in such a horrific manner. I am fortunate not to have lost anyone close on 9/11 (though I know family and friends who have). I am afraid the anguish of losing someone like that never really goes away. But this doesn’t mean these emotional wounds are just left to fester. They need to be treated – to be cleaned and bandaged to bring about proper healing and reduce scarring.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross changed the face of grief counseling with her book, On Death and Dying. The book organized and introduced the general public to the emotional stages a terminal patient experiences. These stages are commonly referred to as the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Since its introduction, it has been applied broadly beyond counseling terminally ill patients to people “affected by bad news, such as losing their jobs or otherwise being negatively affected by change.”

People writing about the Five Stages are quick to note that grieving is an individual process. Patients (or the grieving) should not be rushed through stages. However, there is also a concern that patients do not also linger too long in any one stage. I don’t know what the timeline is for an emotional wound to heal but I do know you need to treat it.

Is accepting bigotry as a salve for healing the right treatment for the pain? I want to know about “collateral damage” – those who the grieving target their anger and pain on. What are they to do while they wait for the grieving to heal? How much are they expected to endure?

I understand loss and I understand the temptation of bigotry – it’s easy to use hate to sooth the pain and grief. However, I just can’t accept it! – It’s not what I was brought up to believe – It’s not what I am raising my children to believe. You can rationalize accepting bigotry but it doesn’t change the fact that is it wrong.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Newly Chinese

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

It’s not hard to draw comparisons between the new century vilification of Mexicans and the turn of the century vilification of the Chinese just leafing through Jean Pfaelzer’s Driven Out -

Although the poorest of the poor, the Chinese bore the blame for the era’s widespread hunger and homelessness… Racial stereotypes began to reflect the desperate economic realities of the decade. The myth of the docile Chinese coolie, readily enslaved and easily purged, gave way to the myth of the scheming ogre, rather like the shifting stereotype of the African American, who morphed from the compliant, happy-go-lucky slave to soulless “beast” after the Civil War.

And even more disappointing because it is not unreasonable to expect African Americans to understand that vilification and stand against it -

William Hall, a black leader in the Bay Area, denounced the Chinese for the effect “which coolie labor is exercising against poor white and black men.” (Philip) Bell believed that the presence of the Chinese would further reduce blacks’ wages, and he asked readers of The Elevator (the African American newspaper on which he was editor-in-chief) to boycott San Francisco businesses that hired Chinese workers… He urged African Americans to vote only for public officials who would deal with this “thorn in the flesh…”

The disappointment extends to descendents of the Italian, Irish, German, and other immigrants who faced the same discrimination when they settled here. Each ethnic group has contended with nativist hate mongering upon touching American shores and yet, once settled, each joins the nativist chorus against the newer immigrants.

I am saddened – shocked – frightened and threatened by how quickly assimilation into the dominant culture occurs. And how old immigrants so quickly forget their struggles in the “New World.”

The Encyclopedia of the New American Nation explains it this way:

in the last quarter of the twentieth century antiforeign sentiment erupted during periods of economic duress, especially in areas in which these groups settled and in contexts where political candidates like Pat Buchanan courted voters with antiforeign themes. Residents of the postindustrial rust belt seemed most sensitive to antiforeign ideas, which often emerged with antigovernment tones. For example, the downturn in the American automotive market negatively affected Asian Americans. The Ku Klux Klan and other survivalist and hate groups still sputtered along, erupting occasionally, as an unhappy underside of multicultural reality. Defenders of an older America denounced nonwhite newcomers, as their predecessors dunned immigrants in the 1840s, 1890s, and 1920s. But the nostalgic nativism… did not hide the point that newcomers since the 1970s had often done the kinds of work that native-born Americans choose not to do. In this way newcomers continued to reap the promise of what was still the most powerful force on earth—the American dream.

As the parent who is easily distinguished as being nonwhite – a second generation child (born here of newly immigrated parents) and a father of third generation children – I am perhaps more stubborn about clinging to the “old world” than my parents (whose primary concern was successful assimilation into the new world). I am a firm believer that a strong ethnic identity and a strong personal identity are deterrents to the negative aspects of nativism.

When my children are old enough to stand in my shoes, will they be as comfortable with their cultural roots as I want them to be? Will they recall the history of American persecution of Chinese immigrants and use those memories to inform their discussions of nativism? And if they are fathers, will they teach their children to value the same freedoms and take on the same responsibilities as I believe I do for them?

The sentiment behind Arizona's anti-immigrant law is not new. Throughout history, tough economic times and a lack of resources, has brought all the negative aspects of nativism to the forefront and the newly immigrated have suffered. I am worried, if not my children, my children’s children will forget their immigrant roots and join the chorus of hate ringing out now across this country.

As far as I know my children are unaware of what is going on in Arizona. They do not understand racism yet. We live in the most diverse city (in terms of race, religion, culture, and subculture) in the world. And they have not yet studied the American Civil War in school. They don’t know about slavery and the Civil Rights fight a century after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. They’ve seen videos but are too young to appreciate the inspirational message and the awe of Martin Luther King’s Dream.

They don’t understand why people are treated harshly because of their skin color or ethnic background. They only understand there are kids who are fun to play with and kids who are mean and who they don’t want to play with. They still appreciate the excitement of trying a new food or learning a new game.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Pursuit of Parenting

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

Recently, I suffered my children’s fierce complaints about having to go to Chinese school over the summer. All of their other friends had the time to themselves – they travelled and played and filled scrapbooks (or hard drives) with tokens from their adventures. My kids were frustrated that they were spending the summer sitting at a school desk for four hours a day, writing and reciting passages they have yet to gain a strong understanding of.

I looked towards my mother, who simply sat there witnessing my children’s tirade, and I knew - I knew I was doing a good job parenting. I knew this because a smile was tucked snugly in the corner of her mouth. It was a smile that dared me to remember how much I protested Chinese school when I was as young as my children are today.

In her New York Magazine article, Jennifer Senior explores the notion that parents are generally unhappier than nonparents. But “happiness” is such a loaded term. Its meaning is personal – individual – even within couples (children or not). When it comes to determining happiness, the ideal differs from mother to father, from child to child.

Throughout her article, “All Joy and No Fun,” there are examples of disciplinary issues straining domestic calm. And there are parents wishing to do the things they used to before the children. The latter is best explained here:

“And my hypothesis about why this is, in both cases, is the same,” says Twenge. “They become parents later in life. There’s a loss of freedom, a loss of autonomy. It’s totally different from going from your parents’ house to immediately having a baby. Now you know what you’re giving up.” (Or, as a fellow psychologist told Gilbert when he finally got around to having a child: “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.”)

Disciplining is the hardest chore involved in parenting. It’s much more than just having your kids do as you say. It’s making sure they don’t hurt themselves or anyone around them and it’s providing them with a strong moral foundation.

As I read the Jennifer’s account of trying to discipline her son and her description of the mother in UCLA video, I couldn’t stop thinking: “Yeah I remember when my child did that.” I wondered how the situation might have differed with the fathers making the demands?

I don’t know what it is – call it primordial instinct – something programmed into the genes – but there is a difference between how children – especially sons - relate to fathers and how they relate to mothers. Jason Sperber from Rice Daddies joined two other fathers on NPR to discuss their relationship with their children and their perspectives on Jennifer’s article.

I also imagined how that scenario would have played out at my house with my parents. I don’t think I would have just gotten a time out for throwing something at my mother. I grew up the only son in a middle class immigrant Chinese household. How would Jennifer’s parents have reacted if she had done the same when she was a child? The parents of the woman in the video? When you are parenting do you tell yourself: This is what mommy and baba would have done?

I don’t think anyone will argue the fact that children change your life. There are things you used to do that you can’t anymore – but then again there are things you used to do that you don’t anymore simply because you have changed - “outgrown” them – or just got bored of them!

I definitely see less of my friends nowadays. However, I don’t know if that’s because of my children made me less available to them or because my friends have had significant life changes that have made them less available to me.

I heartily disagree with the UrbanBaby mothers who say since their children their lives were no longer interesting. Post-children, my life is as interesting as ever. When I do see friends there is no lack of conversation – especially in the age of Facebook and Twitter – the iPhone - information is convenient and keeping in touch easier.

It certainly isn’t the disconnectedness our parents might have felt when they had us. My parents left the comfort of an entire network of family and friends to come to the US.

I won the Chinese school battle with my parents but am steadfast my children will not suffer the same misfortune. My joy then at winning the right to stay home on Sunday’s left me illiterate in my parents’ native tongue and tethered my career potential. With my children being even further removed from their ethnic roots than me, I am even more adamant about their learning Chinese. There is a library’s worth of stories and family histories lost to me because of my illiteracy. My children will not suffer the same handicap.

Jennifer Senior ends her article with a sigh - maybe a resolve -

It’s a lovely magic trick of the memory, this gilding of hard times. Perhaps it’s just the necessary alchemy we need to keep the species going. But for parents, this sleight of the mind and spell on the heart is the very definition of enchantment.

She is referring to a conversation she had with psychologist, Tom Gilovich, where he recalls watching cartoons at 3AM with his kids when they were sick. It was terrible at the time but now so far removed he is nostalgic about it.

Happiness doesn’t come right off the rack. You have to chose and tailor. Sometimes it means not doing the things you used to do to be happy – sometimes it means dealing with the sad until you can replace that happy thing with something new (or tailor it to look like new).

They do call it the “pursuit of happiness.” “Pursuit” is a verb – it is active. Happiness might bump into you sitting there feeling sorry for yourself or you can be proactive and chase it. Jennifer is right. It is “slight of mind” – but to get really good at it you need to practice – which memories are you going to cling to and treasure? Which will you forget?

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Hilarious (and fascinating) article from today's L.A. Times about the challenges of bearing gifts back to China. I guess the mini-Hershey's chocolates of my youth in the '80s don't cut it anymore.


Funny, I was writing in response to a new post on the site but by the time I finished tapping out my comments, the OG post was removed. In respect to the privacy of the original poster, I'll just paraphrase the part I was responding to: "to what extent should we push our kids to learn things that they may not enjoy?" The OP was talking about Chinese school, a grand tradition that many an ABC can probably relate to. Here's what I wrote in response:

I went to Chinese school for several years as a kid. I retained practically nothing out of the experience and while I won't say it was a waste for time, I do think that trying to master a second language that you're not immersed in at home is extremely difficult, especially if not done at the inception of language in a child's life.

The thing is: my parents made a very conscious choice to raise my sister and I in an English-speaking household; they wanted to see us succeed educationally and to them, that meant mastering English. In hindsight, one can question the logic of their decision; my mother's older sister raised her son (my cousin) in a Chinese-speaking household and as a result, he's very proficient in both English and Mandarin. But I rarely felt like I missed out. I have skill sets other people don't have as a consequence of my education just as I lack some skills that I might have acquired if my life had gone differently.

Do I wish I spoke better Mandarin? Absolutely, especially the times where I'm visiting China. But I don't put that on my parents' decisions. I could have taken Mandarin in college. I could take it now. But just as my parents made their choices, I've made mine too and that's been to accept that, at least right now, learning Mandarin isn't enough of a priority compared to other things I'd rather spend my time on (and in any case, if I was really going to go to language classes, I'd take Spanish first).

All of this is to say: it's complicated. My daughter (5) has her first piano recital today and she's very nervous about it. The pain of her anxiety pains me but I'm glad she's taking piano. I wish I had stayed with my lessons more as a kid but like Chinese school, my lack of progress and general antipathy eventually lead my parents to accept my decision to stop doing it.

Do I wish my parents had insisted otherwise? That's very hard to say. On the one hand, I wish *now* that I had better musical skills. But I can't say, "I wish my parents had forced me to learn." That would have created tension in our relationship by forcing them to force me to practice. Would that tension and resentment have been worth it in the end? Possibly. Possibly not. The old taunt, "you're going to thank me for this one day!" doesn't always get proven right. Sometimes, decades later, people are resentful about what they're forced to learn. That's the risk.

My wife and I talk about this a lot: is it our responsibility to pick what skills we think our daughter should master? Obviously some - how to read and write, how to swim, how to get along with others - have practical social and literal survival skills. But playing piano, learning another language, learning how to draw, etc. - those aren't essential (not to us). I think our current philosophy is to support what she wants to learn but not necessarily pick those paths for her. We wonder, all the time, if that's the best thing for her but like I said, we all make our decisions and have to learn to live with them. As the cliche goes, only time will tell if our choices were the "right" ones.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do Rice Daddies Hate Parenting?

You've no doubt read the flurry of reactions that followed writer Jennifer Senior's New York Magazine cover story earlier this month, "All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting." Last week, NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin devoted its regular parenting segment, "Mocha Moms," to discussing the article.

Today, I joined Keith Morton of African American Dad (who I had the pleasure of speaking with in 2008 and 2009 on Tell Me More's pre-Father's Day roundtables), Paul Fidalgo of Bloc Raisonneur, New York Magazine writer Jennifer Senior, and host Michel Martin to lend a dad's perspective on the issue.

I think it was a pretty good discussion, and would love to hear your opinions here. (Oh, and this was my 1-and-a-half-year-old's NPR debut! LOL--didn't realized she'd be that loud!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father’s Day & that Chapin Song

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

Father’s Day always makes me think of that Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” – More so now that the kids are getting noticeably older.

As the kids get older, I get older, so maybe it is just me getting old and sentimental but Chapin’s Cradle seems to have more resonance now. It’s like a friend once told me about reading Hesse’s Steppenwolf. He said it was a totally different book read at 30 than it was read at 20.

I joke with friends that I am still my children’s hero and that I want to milk it for all its worth. One day I’ll find myself clumsy and out of step with my children – unable to understand their language or appreciate their logic. Where once my children were proud and hungry for my attention, they’ll let their voicemail pick up and find me meddlesome. But until then I want to spend every moment I can with them. I want to see them grow despite knowing that one day they’ll grow out of me.

That said – there are those “other moments.”

Those “other moments” when I am not a father enamored of his children. Those “other moments” when the choir of their pleas becomes a din – a drone – a whine – an annoying buzz of insect wings silenced with the wave of a hand only to reappear as soon as you begin to believe the pest is gone.

It is not a secret that if you told me ten years ago that I would be the father of two today, I would have simply have dismissed the comment. A decade ago, children were not part of my life’s plan. However, as a friend put it once about her own children (I’m paraphrasing and taking some poetic license but her sincerity and the truthfulness of the statement remain unchanged): Before kids it was hard to imagine life with them, now (with kids) it is hard to imagine life without them.

Like the father in Chapin’s song, my father and grandfather worked long hours to afford me the luxury of “teaching my children how to throw.” I don’t remember if I wanted to be like my father though I do remember (regretfully) hating my father. There was a lot of going on then and my father represented yet another entanglement I believed was keeping me from soaring towards my goals. I realize now that he was just trying to keep me from falling over the edge of this flat earth.

As an adult, my sister once told me that my father “does not understand me.” The comment took me aback. It had never occurred to me that he “didn’t understand me.” I just thought we disagreed. I mean he and I are peers now, right? We are both adults. We are both fathers.

Sadly, at some point in time I am certain my children and I will not understand each other. I am hopeful we’ll get over it like my father and I did (at least we’ve become better at feigning a shared perception).

I don’t encourage my children to “grow up just like me.” I want them to be better – just like my father wanted for me. So maybe someday my children will hate me for wanting so much but hopefully someday they will forgive me as such.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Wu Are You

Heavenly Kings is one of my favorite movies. It's sort of Spinal Tap but from the HK Boy Band Pop perspective. Daniel Wu interviews well in this CNN clip. I'm not going to say he makes any revelations but its oddly comforting to know we have shared frustrations and challenges.

Now, look at this clip. I used it in a post I wrote reacting to Arizona's law banning ethnic studies classes. It's from the 70s. It's sort of "awakening" to hear the same sort of comments regarding Asian Americans in the mainstream (both in the US and in Asia) spaced almost two scores - almost 40 years! - apart.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Happy Americana Meal

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk.]

Andy Warhol from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:

The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s

The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s

The most beautiful thing is Florence is McDonald’s

Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.

In 1990, Moscow became beautiful.

Beijing (formerly Peking) didn’t become beautiful until 2007.

America is “The Beautiful.”

When I was young,I knew I had done well when my parents would tell me we were going to McDonald’s. Together we would drive deeper into Queens for Big Macs, cheese burgers, vanilla shakes, and a mountain of crispy French Fries.

Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet – it was all a part of becoming more American. And while I desperately wanted to assimilate more in my youth, I understood even then that a visit to the Golden Arches was not a visit made without thought or purpose. It was not something we did everyday.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t scream and cry for McDonald’s whenever the opportunity presented itself. However, my parents were firm. They said, No!

What disturbs me most about the outcry to retire Ronald McDonald and to remove the toys from the McDonald’s Happy Meals is that the arguments to do so seem less about healthy eating and more about parents not wanting to say, “No” to their children. From what I read, the proponents of the forced retirement and ban justify their stance by clinging to the belief that it is too tough to get their children to “eat healthy.”

Damien Hoffman at the Wall Street Cheat Sheet writes:

As the father of a 9 1/2-month-old, I prefer to have a level playing field when taking the time to teach my children how to eat healthy. If Ronald is giving toys with his meals, I have to work that much harder to get my children to eat what is best for their self-interest (which is also best for our economy and society). Personally, I am sick of having to compete with the lowest common denominator when it comes to creating a healthy environment for my family.

I agree. It is tough to get children to eat healthy. As our careers seep more and more into our personal lives and through cell phone and net book our offices become viral, the time traditionally reserved for healthy meals is diminished. Greater effort and planning needs to be done to insure a healthy diet for us as well as our children.

However, just because it is tough doesn’t mean we don’t attempt it. The problem is not Ronald and his Happy Meal toys but busy parents not wanting to spend the time to cope with the consequences of saying: No!

I am my children’s parent, not their friend. Damien is right in asserting: “Children don’t have a mature sense of social reality.” I would add that a lot of adults don’t either (and I don’t mean that in a passive aggressive pot shot way). Reality is a social construct. Individuals who have not had the benefit of developing in a diverse community logically lack the array of tools with which to construct their social reality. This is where we as a society work together to inform and guide. 

Parenting is very inconvenient. Parenting is very tough. These are social realities. Expecting a “healthy” fast food meal is not socially realistic. Fast food is about convenience. It is filler until something substantial can be had.

The Happy Meal toy is a symbol of American innovation. The Happy Meal was created as a way to promote McDonald’s as a family restaurant specifically servicing small children -

The very first Happy Meal in 1979 in Kansas City was the Circus Wagon Happy Meal and McDonaldland Fun-To-Go in St. Louis. It cost one dollar and contained either a McDoodler stencil, a puzzle book, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet or McDonaldland character erasers. The Circus Wagon Happy Meal consisted of a hamburger or cheeseburger, twelve-ounce soft drink, a small order of french fries, and a "McDonaldland Cookie Sampler", a small portion of cookies.

The Happy Meal is that little slice of Americana my parents risked their livelihoods on. They traded their familiar worlds for one they had only seen in the movies. They worked hard for their baseball and apple pie. However, this doesn’t mean we had either everyday. They knew a healthy diet could contain some pie but was not entirely pie. A healthy diet is balanced. And when I screamed for pie, they knew enough to say: No! (and mean it)