Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jackie Chan in the Eagle Dad's Shadow

When I think of Jackie Chan, I usually think of a Kung Fu fighting Harold Lloyd. Jackie's the bumbler, the well-intentioned but clumsy "nice guy" who's just happened to save the day. Off the screen (from the interviews I've seen and read and the out take footage at the end of his movies), Jackie seems to be just as nice and well-intentioned as the characters he's played.

Up until recently, I hadn't put much thought into how Jackie might be as a father. I guess I just assumed he would be Bob Ho from The Spy Next Door.As it turns out, he isn't. According to Channel News Asia, Jackie is donating his entire fortune to charity when he dies. His son, Jaycee, is not getting a dime. His rationale: "If he is capable, he can make his own money. If he is not, then he will just be wasting my money."

But it's not this decision that has me wondering about Jackie: The Father (as opposed to Jackie: The Comedian, The Actor, The Kung Fu Star). It's his reaction when his son Jaycee called concerned about his rumored death. I acknowledge that Jaycee may be exaggerating a tad and that Jackie's reaction is not atypical for the older generation of Chinese parents. But still, I imagined Jackie being a little more "progressive" than that. According to Channel News Asia, Jaycee said, "My dad scolded me 'Do you wish I were dead?' That was when I knew it was all false."

I don't think I'll ever get tired of Russell Peters' "Beat Your Children" monologue.

It's brilliant! It's funny because as the child of Asian immigrants, I can totally relate (I laugh now but it was terrible at the time) AND as an Asian parent, I have already caught myself more times than I would like whipping the same criticisms my parents beat me with __ "An 80 is a good score, if that's the best you can do…", "The teacher wrote you are creative and imaginative. Imagine all you can achieve in this world if you stopped daydreaming and focused on acing those tests…" and so on. Chinese parents are masters of the art of the backhanded compliment.

Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, Wolf Dad, Xiao Baiyou, and Eagle Dad, He Liesheng, have been elected the 21st Century ambassadors of modern Chinese parenting by the news media-at-large. Happily, at each instance of this so called " traditional Asian parenting" there have been as large a chorus of Asian outcry as there have been American ones.

It's been half a year since Duo Duo's famous run around the park, dressed in only his underwear, on a cold and snowy winter's morning. His father, the Eagle Dad, had forced him into the cold and then posted his run on YouTube because he wanted "to show that if a child can accept this kind of extreme education when they are young, they can overcome any difficulties the future might hold." He says, "I did it because I want Duo Duo to be strong."

The video of little Duo Duo's wintry run might not have seen any controversy had there been a Golden Harvest or Shaw Brothers logo in front of it. Parents who spent their adolescent years in the 80s will remember a young Gordon Liu in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin enduring a battery of imaginative (sometimes fantastical) but harsh training regiments on his path to become a "Shaolin Master Killer".

Chose any Jackie's early films and you will see the same ludicrously rough lessons. But while this form of training makes for great drama and fantastical action sequences, parents need to know that these movies are make believe and you cannot hope to apply the same tough love tactics they depict and expect to garner the same results in reality.

By Kung Fu movie standards, I am spoiling my children. But I like to think that they work as hard as they play. I also like to think that given the advantages I didn't have, they will be more successful than I have been and able to do more good. I don't believe I coddle my children. Instead I think in the amount of time I spend with them, I model positive problem solving strategies and social skills for them, while telling them they are the most cherished and important part of my life. I don't have to be the high paid executive or the biggest star as long as I ensure they can be.

In homage to the movie that inspired the title of this post, here's a trailer for Jackie Chan's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (It includes clips of Jackie's character learning and training in Kung Fu):

Originally posted at Cranial Gunk.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Vincent Chin, Danny Chen, and Coping with Betrayal

Originally Posted at

Last weekend marked the 30th Anniversary of the murder of Vincent Chin. The week that lead up to it was filled with posts from across the blogosphere about Vincent and the legacy of how little Judge Kaufman valued the life of a Chinese American versus the lives of the two white men murdered who him. He said, "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail." And if he were alive today, I would ask him, "Was Vincent the kind man that deserved to be bludgeoned to death?"

Bao Phi's opinion piece in the Star Tribune has been one of my favorite references when thinking about Vincent. Another favorite reference is Curtis Chin's documentary, Vincent Who? Released several years before, Curtis' film addresses the legacy of Vincent Chin and Judge Kaufman's verdict.
(I think the opening of the trailer says it all.)

And of course, there is Christina Choy's Who Killed Vincent Chin? It was the first film I saw about the case and (as far as I know) for a very long time the only film made about the case.

I was in high school in '82, the year Vincent was murdered. Billy Idol and Duran Duran, I was dealing with my own issues at the time. But as much taunting and teasing as I got for the clothes I wore and the songs I listened to, race was rarely an issue. I grew up in racially, ethnically, religiously diverse Queens. It wasn't until I meet Curtis several years after college in the '90s that Vincent Chin became an "issue".
But even after meeting Curtis and others since and learning more about Vincent Chin, I don't know that I would have answered any differently if someone were to come up to me and ask me, if I've heard of Vincent Chin?

Judge Kaufman's betrayal of justice ignited a national Asian American movement that positively changed the way I saw myself but Vincent Chin is not part of my daily psyche. I imagine, if approached, I would try to identify someone I might know personally before I would identify someone from modern history.

As a father, it my duty to tell my children that there are people out there who will hate them simply because they "look" Chinese. But my children are young, so I am just as responsible for imparting to them the faith that overall people regardless of race or religion are good. Among my challenges in fatherhood is maintaining the balance between my children having a strong sense of what the "real world" is like with what the "real world" could be. I want them to believe in their neighbors, while at the same time cautious with how quickly they embrace them.

I didn't know Danny Chen but his death has had a lingering effect on me. Danny Chen, 19 years old, enlisted in the US Army (despite the protests of his parents), allegedly committed suicide after enduring months of humiliation and torture at the hands of his Brothers in Arms.

It definitely has something to do with how young he looks in the picture that the news uses whenever they speak about him. I know he's 18 or 19 in the photo but with a little more fat on his face, he could be the same age as my kids (maybe a little older but not much more). His growing up in Chinatown and his parents speaking the same dialect as mine only adds to the sadness I feel and the worry -- the worry that my kids might be the next victims…

As disappointing as it is to have to teach my children that inevitably they will have to endure racist comments, I'm confident I can manage it. But how do I teach my children about betrayal? What makes the Danny Chen case so much more upsetting -- and why it lingers -- is his tormentors were people he was supposed to be able to rely on -- his Brothers in Arms…

Have you ever been cheated on? Have you ever felt betrayed? How do you teach that? How do you teach your children to deal?

I dug around online but the closest I came to "professional" advice was this post at It details the stages of friendship but does not offer any advice on coping with betrayal or when "clubs" shift. The author does say the parent should be supportive of the child and if there are problems go to the child's teacher but there is no instruction on talking to your child about betrayal before it happens.

That's why I like Nikki's song so much. In addition to being musically good on its own, its lyrics are offer good advice on coping with betrayal.

And while the chorus is
The one you love might be the one to let you down every time.
That ain't right, no, that ain't right.
So just be sure you can survive without no one by your side.
'Cause in life, the strong survive.
I don't interpret it to mean "prepare yourself for a life of loneliness and antisocial behavior." I interpret it as a statement on resolve -- Be resolute and confident in who you are. Be yourself. Cultivate yourself. And Live.
They hurt you, they sliced at the threads of your life but what's tearing
you apart is holding on to being right.
Forgiving is hard, like breaking through prison bars but the healing
wont start til you let go of the scars.
Strong people forgive and get the pain out their system
Weak people relive and they keep playing the victim.
People always told us keep our enemies close, but I'd rather keep my
distance than be phoney to a foe.
Best wisdom to own is knowing when to let go, but that's something u
already know.