"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: immigrant

‘shabby chinese’ . . .

brown vest 2I laughed out loud today when reading an email message from a knitting friend of mine. I had just sent her photos of the free-form sweater vest that I knitted from lopi lite yarn called ‘black sheep.’

She wrote that her daughter had characterized her as being either a “princess” with lots of flowers and sparkle, or the other extreme of “refugee-immigrant” with stark neutral colors and a kind of shabby look.

I really identify with the “refugee-immigrant” look because (I guess I am one–the immigrant part, not the refugee part) and find myself dressing often in drab colors: my favorite color is taupe, believe it or not–a hard color to find when it’s just right. Anyhow, my brown vest is kind of along those lines and I especially like the way the armhole edging is raw seed stitch and that it curves in slightly. I am planning to knit more of these but am thinking of cropping the sweater slightly and knitting it in different gauges of yarn.

First, though, I’m waiting for some yarn to arrive from WEBS in a ‘peat’ color to knit a replica of a brown sweater for M. that I wore all the time when my kids were growing up. It is an iconic sweater memory for all of us. I’ve knitted a variation before in a heavier alpaca yarn along with a deconstructed meandering cable.
alpaca cable seed stitch sweater

All these knitting projects crowd in on me as I read weaving books about how to set up a warp. Honestly, it seems really tedious to me so maybe saori weaving will continue to be a fantasy in my mind’s eye, a romantic notion that I would be sitting erect with flowing long hair at a beautiful wooden floor loom, weaving my way into the sunset. Instead, the reality may be closer to my shabby chinese aesthetic, sitting on the worn butterscotch leather couch that I found on Craigslist, knitting taupe and warm brown sweaters in staghorn cable and seed stitch, growing my hair out and wearing it parted similar to when I was in my thirties, cooking macrobiotic asian dishes with brown rice and watching DVD dramas like “Homeland” at night with G.


“braintube”. . .

at cape ann photo, g. evans

I was in the sixth grade when my family moved to Virginia. A boy in the class befriended me for no reason that I could figure out. But I was glad. In those days during the McCarthy era, lots of people looked at anyone from China as a “communist.” The Red Scare was rampant and I felt lucky when I was the butt of racial slurs only once in awhile. For some reason, this boy named J. thought I was smart, even though he was obviously the brightest in the class before I came on the scene. He nicknamed me “braintube,” a salutation that he uses to this day when we write to each other by email, even though we are both grandparents by now. J. is one of the few people that I kept up with from that far back. He worked as a diplomat for the State Department and was posted in various countries, always coming back home with his wife Anne who accompanied him abroad.

In 2008, J. came to a luncheon at a Chinese dim sum restaurant which turned out to be my mother’s last supper with her friends. It occurred in September a few weeks after she had received a diagnosis of cancer in August. All of her friends came to gather one more time. The charm with which he greeted my mother, told us stories and put everyone at ease reminded me once again how much I enjoyed and valued J.’s friendship. My mother died shortly thereafter without pain in early November.

As I thought about that reunion, it occurred to me for the first time that his nicknaming me “braintube” in the sixth grade was akin to parting the Red Sea for me (no pun intended). He was very popular and well-liked when we were twelve years old. And his taking a shine to the new kid–a stranger who was a Chinese girl, no less–made it okay for the others to accept me as one of them. My social assimilation could not have been made easier by Moses! Sometimes it’s hard to tell what strife we might have endured when someone rescues us from potential doom. The thing is, he did it all on his own, maybe not even as consciously aware as I have given him credit for. Maybe it emanated from his southern manners or from his innate diplomatic nature. In any case, it made a big difference in my life! Thanks, J.!


“red sparrow”. . .


skipping rope

When we lived in Berwyn, Maryland my family often gathered with other Chinese immigrant families. One of them was the Chang family who were related to us as second cousins or an aunt & uncle once removed or something like that. I was never quite sure what the connection was. We settled on being “cousins” with them. Judy (on the right of the photo) and I spent a lot of time together skipping rope at my house. We went to see Bob Steele and Hopalong Cassidy cowboy movies every weekend at the Greenbelt Theater. Afterwards we would walk up and down the aisles of the five-and-dime store, inspecting the plastic toys and candy that we would choose to blow the rest of our allowance on.

Judy was an only child and her parents were both physicians. Her mother worked at a hospital and was often away from home. Her father took care of Judy and did the housework at home in addition to being a doctor. Whenever I stayed over with Judy at her house on the weekends, Uncle Chang would buy us whatever we wanted to eat and let us do whatever we felt like.

One day when we were about nine years old, Judy and I sat on the living room rug of her house and demolished a gallon of peach ice cream together. We also ate a large bag of Fritos. We got so sick afterwards that I haven’t gone near peach ice cream or Fritos ever again.

Because both her parents worked, Judy stayed with us over the entire summer when school was out. She was very good at drawing, went to Swarthmore and afterwards became an architect. She also became a hippie of sorts. She met her husband, an American, on one of her treks in the Himalayas. Even though our lives went in different directions, I sought her out for a reunion of sorts when our children were young. We met at a restaurant with our then-husbands and families and then lost touch again. Her marriage ended at the 20 year mark. Mine ended at 26 years.

Much later, I invited her to visit us for Thanksgiving in 2002. By that time, Judy’s father had passed away and she spent her time in Philadelphia practicing architecture and visiting her mother in a nearby nursing home. Judy told me that she had made peace with her mother who was by now nearly a hundred years old.

We had a good, albeit awkward visit together that Thanksgiving at our home. She brought her drawings to show me; I showed her my writing efforts. We talked about how it wasn’t too late for women to reach out for what was still important to us. She told me she had always wanted to travel to Mongolia to take photographs and to sketch the landscapes there. In 2003 she won a SWIMPY (“Senior Women In their Most Productive Years”) grant from Flora Stone Mather College at Case Western Reserve University to sketch a restoration project in Mongolia. She said, “It was a spark I needed to begin a journey imagined a lifetime ago.”

When we skipped rope together, we moved in tandem. Each of us fiercely wanted a creative life. We found a belief system that worked for us: mine in Taoism and Judy in Buddhism.

We spoke again after she returned from Mongolia. Then, she became ill with cancer and died in 2006 with her sons by her side. In memoriam, they created a website to celebrate her life and her art. In the process, her sons discovered drawings that none of us had ever seen. They are posted on a website called “Red Sparrow.”