Around the age of 5 I remember my first trip to Hong Kong. My father took me to see the motheland specifically to attend a big Chinese wedding. I can only assume that it was someone close to him or we would not have made such a big trip. I have very vivid memories from that trip, most of them not pleasant. It was the first time I got lost and separated from my father. It was in a super big shopping center, maybe a mall. Somehow I wandered away and I recall trying to get down an escalator that was going up. I was struggling and became afraid that if I went to the top of the escalator I would not know how to find my way back down again. I remember crying and being upset. People tried to help me but my Chinese was not that good and I couldn’t understand in the heat of being so lost and afraid. Eventually my father found me, he too was frantic, and scolded me for wandering off the way that I had. I was embarrassed. Another event I recall happened at the wedding, I had never been to a big traditional Chinese wedding before. I remember everyone wearing traditional Chinese silk clothing and it was very loud. I was again separated from my father, but this it was on purpose. The children sat at big round tables on the outer parts of the hall while all the elders and adults were in the middle of the room. I remember again feeling embarrassed because I used my chopsticks differently than the children from China, I even recall having more manners too. I was relieved when that trip was over and we headed home to a familiar place where the feeling of being embarrassed faded.
My father and I travelled together a lot between San Francisco (Chinatown), Los Angeles (Chinatown), New York (Chinatown) and Seattle (Chinatown). I eventually thought everyone in the world was Chinese and I thought every place in the world was well Chinatown… I often craved for something different than what I knew. I remember begging my father to make Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I had no idea what it was, but all my friends were eating it. It sounded so heavenly, so normal. Its funny how much I built it up in my mind. When I asked for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, my father would scoff and he would make me homemade pasta with a real cheese sauce, it was good, but in my mind I knew that it wasn’t what everyone else was eating. We ate things like bean curd (tofu) with barbecued pork, Fooyung Dun, (Chinese Egg Dish), suckling pig and Yuntai (Stuffed Pig’s Feet) – actually that last one I would never eat. I also ate a lot of rice.
Our house didn’t look like my friends’ houses either, we had “Chinese” things, big vases with ornate pictures on them, screens with pearl and opal designs. Lots of dragons, Buddhas, a small alter for prayer and burning incense. Yes, it looked like an Opium Den.While all these things became familiar to me, they did not aid me in helping me to feel like I fit in anywhere. If you have ever been to a mom and pop owned Chinese Restaurant and you see their kids sitting at table in the restaurant somewhere doing their homework or adding up cash receipts in the corner (we’ve all seen it, even I’ve seen it) that was me. I don’t know what other kids did when they got home from school but I am sure it wasn’t sitting in kitchen folding wontons for soup, which is what I did when my homework was complete. I grew up craving different experiences, seeking to be part of the norm, wanting to fit in but the reality soon set in that this was never going to be, at least not for me.
I recall my teenage years became rich with experiences that I made happen for myself. At a young age I had traveled the world over. With stories to tell about my time in Amsterdam, or clubbing in a bar in Milan with Madonna, apprenticing in London’s Covenant Garden with Sorbe, or working for a Nigerian Prince named Mosheshe from Wari, Africa. There came a point in my life where I learned to embrace the differences and explore them as opportunities. I stopped trying to be like everyone else, and I started living my life for what it was. Accepting that my differences were what made me unique and gave me ability.
Valentino just celebrated his fourth birthday. He asks questions about his ever expanding network of friends and their families. The stories we read together at night reflect a stereotypical reality that is not necessarily his own. At four years old he has had some amazing experiences and opportunities to travel to all the Hawaiian Islands, Oregon, and Los Angeles (and not just Chinatown). He’s been to Disneyland and met amazing people along the way. Still I know in my heart that he too will feel the differences in his life and wonder what life is like for other children and wonder if his life is “normal”. Maybe this is a normal and natural tendency for all children.
At Tino’s preschool, on their birthday the children get to do an exercise where they carry the earth in their hands while they walk around the sun (in a clockwise direction, he clarifies). The rotation tells them they have taken a 365 day journey around the sun. It is with complete wonder that I watch every moment of my son’s life, growth and his coming into his own. I am excited to witness the moment(s) he realizes his own potential and the possibilities. I pray he will always know that we journey around the sun together, and that he really is holding the whole world in his hands. When I look at him all I see is potential, and while I hope to protect him from the feeling of being lost or embarrassed or the desire to be like everyone else, (which I realize is the natural progression as you grow) I hope he hears my voice repeating “Son I am doing all I can, so you can create your own destiny. Now eat your rice and pork bun.”