A Week with My Parents

Five minutes back in the city after a week away, and I found myself talking to a stranger on the subway. The suburbs have rubbed off on me! Serendipity being what it is, I came out of the convo with a recommendation for an amazing new bakery in Soho and (hopefully) a new foodie friend. God, I love this city!

The dining room CHANdelier (I’ll give you my puns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands!)

Seven days with my parents was the perfect amount of time. No matter how much time passes, I’ll always be their little girl. I’ve come full circle from wanting to escape that label to understanding how lucky I am to be so loved. This week, I ate dish after dish of home-cooked meals and took the time to ask my mom how she made each one. She’s so prolific that it got confusing! We dined on marinated spare ribs, sauteed eggplants, boiled turnips (white AND green, so festive!), garlicky shrimp & bacon scramble, pan fried ginger tilapia, and a parade of homemade soups, each a recipe handed down through Chinese history to cleanse or restore the body. It’ll take some time to write everything up, but I definitely want to share the love.

Between bouts of eating and sleeping as I pleased, like I reverted into a newborn, I told them about all the things that I’ve learned from my time in the startup community. My dad and I actually debated the virtues of various marketing techniques until my paltry Cantonese vocab stunted the discussion. Thinking back to all those petty, stompy-footed teenage demands to “treat me like an adult,” I was astounded to find out that I had finally earned that right. Feeling our relationship evolve in this way was so rewarding that it was, at times, emotional.

In a way, I was meeting my parents for the first time as an equal (an equally strange adult, that is). I found myself watching their daily routines, things that I had grown up with and taken for granted, and noticing the minute details that make my mom and dad so very unique. I found myself scribbling notes madly to capture all the new (old) things I was finally seeing. Because, with this new awareness came the bittersweet knowledge that I can no longer take them for granted, and I wanted to save every sweet second possible. Below are a couple quick sketches of life with my parents. I hope that you enjoy getting to know them just a little bit.

My mom has been growing this ivy for 5 years. It’s hanging down from their second floor balcony!

Dinnertime Talk

While eating, my mom jumps up to call a friend as if remembering something vitally important. She squints at the large buttons on the cordless phone and pushes each number with purpose. I assume her friend answers because my mom starts speaking in her telephone voice, which is at least 10 decibels above normal conversation volume. The sound traverses the room and rebounds off the perfect white walls of my parents’ newly built townhouse.

As I tune in to her side of the conversation, she is telling the friend that a particular sauce, of soy sauce and scallions in hot oil, would be delicious on a batch of pickled turnip strips that she had dropped off earlier that day. Knowledge imparted, she hangs up without much warning. I’m used to this, having been effectively hung up on many times in the past, when she decides that everything has been said and forgets the formality of a goodbye. For my mom, a phone call is an action item, not a leisurely activity.

Before I finish chewing the bite that I had just placed in my mouth when she left the table, she is back and laughing at how slowly I eat.

Karaoke and the Neighbors

My father loves to sing karaoke. They have a complex system, complete with speakers as tall as small children, woofers and sub-woofers, whatever that means, and four or five control panels with more tiny switches and knobs than I’d imagine a spacecraft would need. This system is set up in their basement where it is ice-cold and, for some reason, where a full family room and formal dining room are also set up. It looks nice but, even on the hottest day in the deepest part of summer, it feels like the inside of a walk-in freezer. So my dad dances while he sings to stay warm, flicking the cord of his golden microphone every so often to avoid tangles and to show me how it (it being showmanship) is done.

For five of the six nights that I was home, my dad sang karaoke loudly and late into the night. Some days, he sang and danced in the morning to “get the blood moving” when he woke up. Since my parents live in a semi-detached townhouse, and the machine is flush against the one connecting wall, I wondered what the neighbors thought of this habit. They never seemed to make a noise, but I saw their cars parked out front regularly so they were home often enough to witness this ritual.

I started to theorize that they were ruthless kidnappers holding hostages next door and only showing up to feed them enough to keep them alive. In which case, I hope that one day a kidnapper will be careless enough to drop or leave his cell phone within reach of the most intrepid hostage, who will then be able to describe the loud Chinese songs filtering through from the neighboring condo. My parents, being somewhat of a Brangelina-style celebrity couple within the local Asian community, would quickly be identified as the melodious background noises in question, thereby guiding the police to the townhouse in time to rescue everyone. My dad would be a hero!

Of course, the other option is that the neighbors are gradually building up a passive-aggressive grudge against my parents and will one day retaliate by putting a microscopic scratch on the side of their prized black BMW. It is the one thing my mother fears most. I’m more inclined to believe the kidnapper scenario though. Mainly because the neighbors drive a black SUV and a large white van, both with tinted windows. Quite incriminating.

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