Vanessa Hua

Explore. Write. Connect.

The Fare to Yangshuo

New York Times magazine

The taxi driver’s face brightened up when my husband and I arrived at the dingy Guilin airport in southern China on the last flight in from Shanghai. We were exhausted from traveling by plane and train every couple of days. The drive to Yangshuo, where the mountain peaks are shaped like gumdrops, would take an hour and a half.

“You’re Chinese,” she said. She was short and wore baggy clothes. “You speak Chinese?”

Yi dian,” I said. One drop. A little. After traveling in China for more than a week, my language skills had improved somewhat. I could make small talk, though I would struggle in an argument. But yi dian was invitation enough for the cabby to start chatting. Read more >>

For My Father, Resurrecting the Ancient Rituals

New York Times

Even after the Parkinson’s diagnosis, my father seemed invincible. When a truck sideswiped his car, flipping it over, he hung upside down by his seat belt, his glasses on and intact. He’d taken a taxi home from the hospital, rather than calling my mother for a ride and upsetting her. And he’d survived falls, cracked one kneecap, and then the other, bruised his face, and healed each time. Iron bones, to match an iron will.  Read More>>


One Wish: A Novel? A Baby? A Father's Life?


After drying out on the kitchen counter, the wishbone no longer looked like it had originated inside a rotisserie chicken. Dun and brittle, it resembled a desiccated twig, ready to combust.

My husband and I each grabbed onto an end. We both knew that I was cheating. My fingers were high up on the prong, so that I could break off the longer half and get my wish. In that split second before it cracked apart, before I raised my end high in the air, time stopped. Which wish?Read more>>

Love, Translated

Southwest: The Magazine

The grammar lesson outed my secret.

In Spanish class, we were practicing time expressions. “How long ago did you run?” the teacher asked.

           Hace una semana, a classmate answered. One week ago.

            “How long ago did you swim?

            Hace un año, another said. One year ago.

            I nervously studied the list of verbs in the workbook. Besar. To kiss. Read More>>

An Ever-Expanding Universe for My Twins

New York Times

Up until a week before I gave birth to my twin boys, I swam every day. My belly ballooned between the halves of my sports bikini, and the swimmers in the other lanes must have feared that they were going to witness a water birth. I felt weightless and free. The scent of chlorine was bracing yet purifying, and the air bubbles trailed behind me like comets.

I pictured the twins, floating in me as I was floating in the pool. Their eyes closed, their fists clenched, on the verge of unfurling. Did the rocking motion put them to sleep? I hoped that the twins would someday take to the water as easily as I did. >>Read More


The Stories Beyond the Songs

The Curran SF

My immigrant Chinese father loved musicals: the soaring songs, the graceful dancers, the worlds within them lit gold. With their hero’s journeys and reversals of fortune, their extravagant declarations of bravery and love, musicals captured the promise and perils of coming to America, even if their stories were set elsewhere—in the imperial court of Siam, say, or a Russian shetl, or an island in the South Pacific.

In the early 1960s, when my parents arrived in the Midwest to attend graduate school, they quickly became acquainted with other all-American pleasures, too: big cars, hamburgers, root beer floats. During my childhood in the Bay Area, back in the days before DVRs and VCRs, when one network or another would air The Sound of Music—uninterrupted, with no commercials, as a special event—our whole family would gather to watch Maria and the von Trapps outwit the Nazis and escape across the Austrian Alps. I’d sit on the carpet, thrilled to be awake past my bedtime, peering through this window onto a wider world, swept up by music that made me feel like a soap bubble floating on the wind.

>>Read More

Working Mom? My Heart is Trying to Tell Me Something

Washington Post

I was half naked, covered in a thin hospital gown, rolled onto my left side on the exam table. The tech spread cold, sticky gel over my chest and began circling the wand.

My heart appeared on the screen, silver and grey, the chambers exposed, beating, beating, beating. The mysteries and wonder of the human body on display. I was at the cardiologist’s to determine why I suffered shortness of breath, why it felt like my heart was skipping a beat dozens of times a day. Read More>>


I Used to Run Towards Danger


As soon I stepped off the plane in Abu Dhabi, the heat hit me. The air conditioning in the jet-way couldn’t beat back the desert shimmering through the tinted glass. In the terminal, I joined the throngs of women in black abayas and the men in flowing white dishdash and made my way toward my connecting flight to Kathmandu. 

Just the day before, I’d kissed my 3-year-old twins in California good-bye while they slept. I’d be gone for two weeks on a reporting fellowship that I had been anticipating for months. My absence was a hardship for my family, but it was trip I knew I had to take. Read more>>


The Art of Chinese Cooking


I can make a mean seafood paella, but I never learned to cook the food my grandmother made. Read More >>


Christmas Haggling -- the Thailand Version


I thought we had an understanding.

It was a week before Christmas, and I was finishing my holiday shopping at the MBK mall in Thailand, a towering complex filled with a maze of booths. I haggled for a box of tea for my mother, a mango wood vase for newlywed friends, and a T-shirt for my brother. Though I didn’t speak Thai, I bargained with vendors by punching prices into a calculator.

Late in the afternoon, I was fingering lustrous silk scarves in red, gold and green when the merchant asked me in Mandarin if I was Chinese. Yes, I explained, I was born in the United States, but my parents were from China. The vendor was stocky, with a wide smile and a round-cheeked face that reminded me of my grandmother’s. We chatted about my trip to Thailand and the provinces where our families hailed from in China.

“How much did you pay for your plane ticket?” she asked. Read More>>


What I Learned By Wearing My Chinese Mother's Dress


My arms twisted behind me, my hands scrambling on the silk satin. I caught one end of the zipper and pulled it up. I could only reach so far with that hand from that angle, and I raised my left arm, dropped my forearm behind my shoulder, found the zipper, and closed the gap. I smoothed my hands down my sides, slippery as water.

I was wearing my mother's dress for the very first time.

The mini-dress had a slit up the right side and a pattern of white feathery embroidery and circles of Oriental design. The dress fit tight across my chest and snug on my thighs. I felt sexy.

An alarming thought struck me: My mother was sexy. She was a scientist, and I was a journalist, but sometimes, we both liked to strut.  Read More>>