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 >>
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>>
The dining room reeked of dead flowers, of pond scum and festering. A few weeks after my father’s funeral, I’d returned to my childhood home and discovered withered petals heaped around floral arrangements, their stems gray with mold, in vases long gone dry.
Gagging, I shoved it all into the green waste bin. Our family had held off from cleaning up, not certain if my mother was ready. As I slammed down the lid, I thought about the help she would need, not only in her mourning but in the life she would make without my father.
Who would move the heavy bins down the steep driveway to the curb each week? Who would keep the house from feeling too empty? Independent as my mother was—she was a research scientist who still headed her own lab—who would watch out for her? Read More>>
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>>
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>>
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.
My father handed me a folded slip of red paper. Printed inside were the instructions, saved from a recent restaurant excursion, for using chopsticks: Tuck under thumb and hold firmly. Add second chopstick, hold it as you hold a pencil. Hold first chopstick in original position, move the second one up and down. Now you can pick up anything.
He wanted me to learn the proper method, in which the eater only moves the top chopstick. Mine crossed in the back, both chopsticks moving at the same time, like a pair of scissors.
My husband smirked. Even though he’s not Chinese, he had the right approach, because he’s the sort who follows every step of the recipe while I’m always improvising before I get to the end of the instructions. “The food gets to my mouth. That’s what matters,” I said. With chopsticks, I ate enthusiastically and doggedly, but not always with finesse — which also describes how I’ve made my way in life.
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>>
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>>
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>>