I’ve lived in cities my whole life. The way people talk about vistas and floodplains is the way I talk about crowded intersections and underground malls.
Did I create the myth of Chinatown, or did the myth create me? It was stories of immigrants that brought me to this apartment on Mott Street, and I hope that in the process of adding my own story to this history, I will finally be able to let it go.
Then the little baby wakes up and starts crying. It’s like the whole family’s signal to start getting ready for some big event. The whole house is in action. I guess it is the mom who ducks out of the room and comes back. She is holding a piece of glass, almost the size of an egg, and it is suspended on a string. It looks like a broken-off shard from a chandelier. She holds the baby and gently swings the glass above the baby’s head. Between the television light, the sunlight, and the lights on in the house, the glass throws a thousand colors around us and the baby magically stops crying. I’ve got to admit, I feel something too.
Algorithmic Problem Solving for Father-Daughter Relationships
If (daughter comes to stay)
then (if (temperature = cold))
then (enjoy home cooking)
else (watch movies)
else (buy her consumer electronics)
Excerpt from Ploughshares
It used to be that he felt like a conveyer belt, and his girlfriend some kind of consumer appliance up for inspection. "What is this?" he'd say, "Is this up to speed?" tapping a finger at her temple as she giggled. While she was brushing her teeth, he'd flip her over on her back, her hair fanned out on bathroom tiles, in order to inspect the bottom of her feet. "These are great," he said of them. "Very compact and efficient."
(Mercenary empathy for strangers you have nothing to do with.)
When the old man alone in the restaurant begs someone on the phone to join him for dinner, resist the urge to comfort him. Watch him order all the dishes again once the first round gets cold and fight the inclination to join his sadness.
Seriously consider adopting a slightly disabled cat.
There’s a saying that goes “When you’re young you shouldn’t read Journey to the West, and when you’re old it’s best to tuck away Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” In the autumn of your life, you wouldn’t want to be plagued by the worries and regrets of five lifetimes. For those delicate adolescent days, the fantastic feats of Journey would make you too dreamy; you would think yourself more elegant, more powerful than you’d ever be. You’d want to ride your bicycle into the sky and hop like the Monkey King through peach-shaped clouds and into another more magical universe.
Years later, Grandmaster Tu would say Journey was the explanation for the long scar across his chest. He had jumped, with lanky arms outstretched, confidently off the ledge of a two-story wall onto a great tree branch that tore him through.
Three weeks before his 25th birthday, Xiao Gang became engaged to an American girl he’d never met. The connection took only a single moment. The world turned as always, a sugar cube lost itself in tea, train stations united lovers, corn grew golden, and kites went up in the air. In this moment, yuan fen grabbed hold of Xiao Gang, counted his steps, and drew his hand to the door he held open for Vivian, the mother of his future wife.
After that, everything changed.
We are what the people called Bei Piao – a term coined to describe the twenty-somethings who drift aimlessly to the northern capital, a phenomenal tumble of new faces to Beijing. We are the generation who awoke to consciousness listening to rock and roll, and who fed ourselves milk, McDonalds, and box sets of Friends. We are not our parents, with their loveless marriages and party-assigned jobs, and we are out to prove it.
Our goal is to burn white hot, to prove that the Chinese, too, can be decadent and reckless. We are not good at math or saving money but we are very good at being young. We are modern day May Fourth era superstars, only now we have Macbooks. We’ve read Kerouac in translation. We are marginally employed and falling behind on our filial piety payments, but we are cool. Who was going to tell us otherwise?