Category Archives: Family

The Universality of Human Connection

By Anthea Xiao

At a young age, I was introduced to and fascinated by Japanese culture through the channel of Japanese animations such as Studio Ghibli films and Doraemon. Eager to learn more about the Japanese language and customs, I enrolled in Japanese as my foreign language class and took the initiative to study Japanese culture on my own. My Japanese teacher recognized my passion and introduced me to an exchange program, which allowed students to live with host families and experience life as a Japanese High School student. I quickly seized the opportunity, and in the summer of 2016, I embarked on an unforgettable journey to Kanazawa, Japan.

Prior to flying to Japan, I diligently memorized Japanese phrases applicable for specific situations, read countless articles regarding Japanese etiquette, and even watched host-exchange “horror-stories” online from other students to prepare myself for any undesirable scenarios.

My heart was leaping out of my chest with anxiety and excitement when I saw my host-family waving the sign “ようこそ, アンセア!” (Welcome, Anthea!) at airport gate. During the initial stage of my stay, my host-exchange experience was exceeded beyond my imagination and expectations. I tasted a diverse array of authentic Japanese cuisines (a superb bowl of ramen was only $5 USD!), I quickly bonded with classmates through organizations such as the student acapella and traditional tea ceremony club, and I was able to improve my language ability through practicing colloquial Japanese outside of a classroom setting.

However, despite enjoying my host situation, I found it difficult to feel completely at ease with my host-family. I had read in textbooks that it is impolite to address Japanese people in an intimate or casual manner upon initial greetings. Therefore, although my host-parents asked me to address them as “mother” and “father” just like my host-sister did, I insisted on calling them Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida in fear of breaching their existing family structure.

The phrase “迷惑” (meiwaku) means to burden or to cause inconvenience for others. In Japan, a collective and harmony-focused society, causing meiwaku is a taboo and could signal a person as self-centered and uncouth. To avoid being seen as a meiwaku to my host-family, I refrained from seeking for help when I had trouble finding the way home from school or did not understand how to operate machine devices at home.

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An Unspoken Language

By Stella Yeung

My grandfather had been creating Chinese art for as long as I can remember. My family would drive to his house, a couple towns over, every weekend. All my mom’s sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces lived with him, keeping the house in a constant commotion. The house smelled of traditional Chinese dishes and bare feet. During every weekend visit, I begged to go home immediately, as I judged this side of the family who grew up so differently than me. It bothered me that they had mismatched bed coverings and antique art pieces that seemed to be blindly picked up from Goodwill. I pulled at my mom’s sleeves until she told me “Be quiet, we’re leaving soon”. I let out exaggerated groans and sighs until we’d finally leave hours later.

I spoke Chinese-English growing up, but the English side became more prominent as I went through American schooling and watched countless reruns of Full House. I watched enviously as I constantly compared my family to the characters in the show. I wondered why I didn’t have an uncle like John Stamos or a dad like Bob Saget, and why my life had to be so crude.

“Do you know how lucky you are to grow up in America?”

I roll my eyes at my mom because I’ve heard it all before, even though, on the inside, I know I take it all for granted. My mother’s side of the family are all immigrants, including herself. Most of them did not get college degrees and worked in the restaurant business for years after they came to America, just so they could pay bills, support the family, and repeat. Regrettably, I have never had much conversation with this side of my family. Their main focus was to get to America to provide a better life for their kids, and here I was, a non-Chinese speaking Chinese-American with everything laid out for me. The least I could do was learn Chinese, to say thanks, and commend them for their conquered adversity. However, they never fully learned English and I never fully learned Chinese; we were comfortable with how things were and therefore never felt compelled to change. As a result, I sit awkwardly and quietly at family gatherings, picking at food and wishing my relatives would quiet down (yelling is commonplace for their conversations). I am annoyed at their volume of conversation but also envious, because I’m not a part of it. Here we are, sitting, with the same blood running through us, but we are strangers. As a side note, I did go through multiple years of Chinese school, but my mother had to sit with me because I couldn’t understand the teacher.. After a few years, I finally convinced her to stop paying for my Sundays filled with embarrassment and boredom.

So, to keep myself preoccupied while at my grandfather’s house, my tiny self would hobble into my grandfather’s study room where he would be effortlessly gliding ink across parchment. There was parchment on the floor, walls, and tables. Ink and paint brushes were scattered across his desk as well. He would dabble in ornate paintings of mountains or large texts of Chinese. Each brush stroke was placed with precision, grace, and dexterity I wished I could do with such ease. I was an artist myself so I watched him with awe. Since I couldn’t read Chinese, I never quite knew what the words he wrote meant, but my young wide-eyed self knew they looked beautiful.

While I never lived in rural China and was never forced to farm for a living, I also found that same escape in art as my grandfather once did. When he wasn’t drawing, he was scowling. Veins thriving from his neck and brows constantly furrowed. He spoke in complaints and accusations. The only time I saw his face relax, and his muscles loosen, was when he was at his desk, in his study, with his brushes in hand and parchment in front of him. I stare at his concentration, the clear transparency in his eyes as his presence was no longer at his home but somewhere far off where he felt at peace. I smile because I know exactly where he is. He later passed his paintbrushes onto me because he knew I was an artist just like he was. Oddly enough, nobody else in our family had the same shared fire to create as we did.

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Spending Mid-Autumn Festival Without My Family

By Sarah Ta

My family is not the celebratory type, so most holidays end up passing without so much as an acknowledgement. However, Mid-Autumn Festival is one that we always celebrate. Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday that occurs on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. During ancient China, it was a day to celebrate the autumn harvest and to worship the moon, but over the years, it has shifted to become more of a day to spend time with family. Traditions today include eating mooncake with family, relaxing together under the stars, and admiring the full moon. Many people believe that the moon is brightest on this particular night, which is why admiring the moon remains a significant tradition.

For the past eighteen years of my life, I’ve always celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival with my family. Our way of celebrating is just sitting together after dinner and eating mooncake. As simple as it is, it gives us a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s presence. However, this will be the first year that I will be spending it away from them. Since Mid-Autumn Festival lands on Wednesday October 4th this year, I won’t be able to go home. Spending time with my family was something I took for granted, but I now finally realize that I should’ve appreciated it more.

To help lessen some of the homesickness, my friends and I are planning to head over to Chinatown’s Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on October 7th to celebrate. Even though the festival is a few days after Mid-Autumn Festival, I’m sure that it will still be a lot of fun. I’m really touched that my friends suggested this, since none of them come from an Asian background. I can’t wait to show them how fun Chinese festivals can be.

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