wavelength I couldnât comprehend. A chain of command, a way of doing things, a respect of elders or higher-ups was being adhered to, and I apparently never got that memo because I didnât care about letters from city supervisors, wedding announcements, or the fact that, once and for all, I donât speak Chinese. Not Mandarin. Not Cantonese. Yes, thatâs too bad. Got it. Filed it.
I just wanted my mom to show a little enthusiasm for my lifelong dream come true, thatâs all.
Ah. Foolish mortal.
In my parentsâ house, my childhood home, I let my mom go on a little more about Fiona Ma and her dream wedding. I ate it. I walked away. I didnât know how to express my frustration or my anger. I was a good Chinese daughter and didnât explode.
My parents always ask why I donât stay longer.
In my momâs office near the kitchen thereâs a corkboard where she has pinned up, along with Fionaâs clippings, photos of Other Peopleâs Kids. I capitalize the letters of that phrase because they are of supreme importance, apparently. My mom is thorough in recounting who just graduated from Stanford, who is going to be a dentist, and whatnot. Although I donât recognize all of them, my mom sings their praises with regularity. Among these accomplished children of other people, one picture stands out. Itâs a glamour shot of some girl named Crystal. My mother frequently insists that I know who she is, even though I am certain that I do not.
âSure, you know her!â
âNo, I donât.â
âSheâs our friendâs granddaughter!â
âIsnât she pretty? And now sheâs older, and really, really pretty. You should see her now.â
The photo is actually attached to a handle and backed on cardboard. Itâs a fan. Because, you know, who doesnât need a personal cooling implement for those countless, sweltering days in San Francisco? And if that accoutrement is emblazoned with the pretty face of your palâs granddaughter, I guess itâs just a win-win.
My mom talks about Crystal kind of a lot. Crystal, if youâre out there reading this, donât you think thatâs kinda creepy?
Why do Chinese people find it easy to praise other peopleâs kids and yet make their own children feel like we are not good enough? I know itâs not just a Chinese thing, but nonetheless, the mind reels. I wonder what primal, cultural, or parental need is getting satisfied by having fantasy surrogate children like Fiona and Crystal. Some might say itâs the Chinese tradition not to praise your children or else they will become lazy or will stop striving for the highest level. But more significant, I think, is that Fiona and Crystal can never hurt my mom. Maybe itâs safer to love them.
And besides, for all I know, Crystalâs parents might have a picture of me on their bulletin board, and Crystalâs wondering who the hell I am. Maybe sheâs thinking, Dang it! Iâm Miss Teen Chinatown so why are there press clippings about this stupid writer all over my momâs wall?
Who knows. What I do know is that my parents have tons of friends, and all their yearly Christmas cards are all over the house. My mom and dad never throw anything away, so the Christmas cards from past years are taped up, pinned up, and stuck into the corners of cabinets where the glass meets the wood. I have grown up with some of the families and have certainly heard of everyoneâs accomplishments.
Interestingly though, there are some kids who, mysteriously, are never included in the family photos that we receive. There are disabled kids, delinquents, and neâer-do-wells. I know they exist because Iâve seen them from a distance at events, slumped in wheelchairs or moping in the corners, and also Iâve heard my mom gossiping on the phone about them. But strangely, there is no photographic proof that includes or even