A Mini Love Story

G is my distant cousin and he is always considered, by my parents and my relatives, to be the most intelligent and most unfortunate among all my cousins. His life started well–a cute kid, indulged by his parents, growing up to be a handsome teenager. He’s half Mongolian, just like me, but he looks more Mongolian than anybody else in my family, the very handsome kind of Mongolian. Actually Mongolians are not as homogeneous as we tend to think. They come from many different tribes scattered among a vast area and people have quite diverse physical features–some are short and some very tall, some with thick black hair and some with soft thin kind. G is the best looking boy. He’s also talkative and gregarious. Everybody loves him. If he’s not my cousin and if he’s my age group, I would have fallen in love with him.

When he’s about 15 years old, due to political reasons, he was sent to a remote area at the border of China, Russia, and North Korea. Nobody could save him from his fate. He went and stayed there for 20 years. Actually among the same group of young men who were sent to the region, he’s the last to leave. I don’t really know the particulars, but I suspect that G refused to bribe the officials, either on moral ground or economic ground. From my observation, he is rather high minded and also very stingy, both working against him for the purpose of an early return. My parents always insisted that G is too intelligent for his own good. He doesn’t go with the flow as others do, and he ends up making himself conspicuous, usually in a bad way.

When G came back to the big city, he was so unskilled and so uneducated that he couldn’t get a job. His mother had to quit her job so that G could replace her. It’s a low level clerk job, but it is a good job in a convenient location. If G could keep his mouth shut and behave well, promotion was very possible.

Now everybody started to introduce girls to him. His parents–my aunt and uncle–were very anxious to see their only son settle down as soon as possible. They saved for him for decades. He also had his own savings. The only thing lacking was a wife. But he’s difficult. My parents said again he’s just too intelligent and his aim too high. His intelligence obviously works against him again–especially in the marriage market. He’s 35, with no marketable skills. What could he expect? Just like what my parents said, G rejected all the girls people introduced to him.

Then one day he came home with a girl, X, who’s almost as tall as him, almost as old as him. She’s quite nice and elegant, working in a place very close to G. On closer inspection through a deliberately prolonged dinner, my aunt and uncle found that X is actually from a different ethnic group. I won’t name this ethnic group since my relatives have strong prejudice against this group and often criticize this group. Now I realize how prejudiced my relatives were. At the time I followed their example as if that’s the only valid opinion in the world. Everybody was against this marriage. My parents were called upon to denounce this girl and they did.

The wedding eventually happened despite all the objections. I think the reason G likes X is that X loves theater as much as G. They like plays, movies, operas of various kinds. Not that they had so much money to spend on these, but in those days everything was broadcast on TV and they watched everything and discussed it endlessly afterwards. It’s a Mongolian tradition to love theater. I guess everybody living in the far north with long winters would eventually develop a penchant for theater. There’s no entertainment available in winter except watching people dressing up and posing as fictional characters.

Soon after the wedding, their married life became a common topic circulated among the relatives. My parents couldn’t go visit them since they were not welcomed anymore due to their strong objection to the marriage. However, my parents talked with my uncle and my aunt to get all the details. The newly weds were waiting to get their own place, but while waiting, they lived with my uncle and aunt.

First X had a bad eating habit. My uncle and aunt whispered to my father, who related it to my mother at our dinner table. X didn’t eat formal meals, only snacking here and there throughout the whole day. My cousin G didn’t mind this at all since his mother always cooked. G had his meal with his parents while his wife X was either coming home late or finding some excuses to go talk with neighbors. My uncle and aunt considered this as a serious breach of long-held tradition. Also X didn’t cook and had no intention of cooking for the family as a good daughter-in-law should have done. My parents discussed this piece of information and attributed X’s habit and her non-filial attitude to his ethnic background. She’s just not as civilized as us, which was the reason she couldn’t get herself married until she’s 35 when my unfortunate cousin came calling. My parents concluded.

My uncle and aunt wanted to exert their authority and train their daughter-in-law into a “civilized” being. At this time, both my uncle and aunt had retired. They could have an early dinner themselves without having any food left for G, which they thought could force X to cook for G. They devised this plan. One day, when G came back home and found no food on the table. G asked his wife X to cook something. X just came back from work and was having a cookie. She offered him some. G declined and insisted on some cooked food. “Why don’t you go out to the corner restaurant to get a bowl of noodle?” X said. G agreed and went out. This went on for three days and eventually my cousin G threw a tantrum. X treated him as if he’s an incorrigible teenager and brushed him aside. She stepped out to go talk with the neighbors–it’s part of her indispensable entertainment that she talked with neighbors.

My cousin G and his wife X end up having a better relationship than my own parents, or my uncle and aunt. G’s macho outbursts usually have no effect on X, probably because of the cultural difference between the two. I always wanted to tell my parents that I like X, but I never dared.

Mini Story: The Sales Training

Pammy is a fictional character but the event is something that really happens, not as infrequently as we tend to imagine. The idea of this story is based on my talk with my friends on the sales training they had been to. It goes like this:

Pammy lives with her husband Tan and their son Sam in New Jersey. Her husband originally wanted to become a physicist, but couldn’t resist the allure of the Wall Street. So fifteen years ago, he became a financial analyst there. Pammy has never worked–she has never worked outside of her home. If Pammy works, whatever extra money she brings back home will go into the extra tax they have to pay and the family ends up with the same amount of after-tax income. So what’s the point?

Pammy grew up in Macau and came to America when she married her husband. Her parents are very traditional and she knew from early on how to please her parents by not talking or asking questions. She’s not an introvert and could communicate very well at home. However she looks an introvert when she’s not with her family or her friends.

Her son Sam grows up and leaves for college. Now to find herself something to do, she becomes a sales assistant at a branch office of a big company. Her English is still no good after many years of living in America, but the company is eager to expand its presence in the Asian communities in the greater New York region and her target clients are mainly Asian immigrants. She will do cold calls, make non-solicited visits to small businesses, conduct sales events.

“Pammy, how’s your training class?” The manager of the Asian team, Jina Chia, asks. The reason Jina asks is because Pammy didn’t say much in the training class even if the instructor presses her for self introduction and for sales plan.

“You really need to speak up, exert yourselves, be positive, present an energetic image.” Jina says.

“I was frightened out of my wits. Everybody in the training class was like I wanted to do $100,000 sales for my first year, 100 cold calls each day, 30 visits and events a month. That sounds too astronomical to me. What if they can’t do that much sale?” Pammy said.

“That’s what I have been saying, Pammy. You are not positive. You have to be more assertive, more optimistic, more active. Learn from your American colleagues.” Jina pats Pammy’s arm. Jina’s mother-in-law cooked some sticky rice cake, which Jina brings as her lunch. She insists that Pammy have some to boost her spirit. When Pammy is about to leave the office, Jina walks her to the door and then to her car so that they can talk.

The next day, Jina came to see Pammy and told her in a rush,

“Mike just comes in from the headquarter. He used to be the manager of the Italian team in this office ten years ago. He suddenly wants to have a special sales meeting with all the new trainees here. You are one of the only two trainees from our Asian team. I want you to… you know… Remember what I said yesterday and perform your best in front of him. It is important.”

The sales meeting is held in the conference room, with Mike and ten new trainees. Jina Chia and another manager also come in and sit next to Pammy.

After a brief presentation on the rosy prospects of the company, Mike starts to let each trainee to talk about his ambition and his target figure. The cute Italian boy, who looks like he just traded his high school graduation gown for his suits, talks about his plan to work on his extended family and his even more extended parish. His sales figure is minimum $120,000 for his first year. Pammy gasps incredulously, but Jina squeezes Pammy’s hand and smiles at her to calm her down.

Then Raj, the Indian American, who looks like a nerdy engineer and speaks very fast, starts to talk about his plan for the Indian community. The biggest Bollywood event will be held in the Metlife Stadium right next to the Hudson River and he has an insider track to the event organizer. Utilizing this event, he can reach millions of Indian diaspora in the world as well as anybody who likes Bollywood movies. His sales figure projection is $120,000.

When it comes to Pammy’s turn, she feels that she is going to faint, not only from the fear of public speaking, but also from the dizziness of the figures she has to come up with. She has no relatives or parishioners or movie events to rely on. What is she going to say? Anything less impressive than what has already been said will disappoint Jina Chia.

“I am going to reach half a million prospective customers through the organization of …” Pammy pauses for breath and Jina nervously stares at her, “the international organization of, how am I going to say this, the organization of Lingzhi. For three generations, from my grandma’s time, we have been cultivating, supporting, spreading the spirit of Lingzhi.” Pammy says. She feels that she has never said so many English words all in one breath before.

“Wonderful. Lingzhi, what a name!” Mike says. “Half a million customers. I hear you. Good job, Pammy. This is what I call diversity. With diversity, more customers.” Mike says and waves his happy hand in the air and proceeds to the next new trainee.

“What is Lingzhi?” Jina asks Pammy quietly, “Are you crazy? It doesn’t sound right.”

“It’s a herb my grandma took. It boosts immune system and it grows in Tibet. It’s a kind of mushroom plus fungus. At least half a million people consume it every year.” Pammy says, feeling relieved that the worst is over.

“You can’t just say wild things like this. This is corporate America and have some respect.” Jina says. She aspires for the managing directorship somewhere, if not in the New York region, or the West Coast, at least in Southeast Asia, in which area the company has been growing steadily. Pammy’s new antics can have unforeseeable consequences for her future position on the corporate ladder.

Just when Pammy thinks everything is over and Mike is getting ready to get up and leave, someone says something which Pammy doesn’t understand. Her English is not good enough to catch everything. The meeting ends and Mike walks to the door, but doesn’t exit. Instead he comes back towards Pammy, “What exactly is Lingzhi? I think I heard it before and I have notes somewhere that I can dig up, but just tell me a little bit more about this organization.”

“It’s the most wonderful organization the world has ever seen. It helps people, motivates people, energize people. An old person comes to Lingzhi and leaves like a teenager. That’s the true spirit of Lingzhi. I can send you a report on it if you are interested.” Pammy says and feels a sharp pain on her leg, where Jina kicks her very hard with her sharp shoes.

“Hear that, Jina?” Mike smiles towards Jina’s direction. “Give your report to Jina as soon as you can. I want to read it. Good job!” He leaves the room quickly without waiting for any response from the two women.

“Can you stop? I am going to kill you and chop you to pieces. I want you to boast your sales projection and say something reasonable just like the other trainees. That’s the corporate way. You boost your spirit with a higher than achievable number to motivate yourself. What did you do? You come up with this wild goose to frighten me.” Jina says to Pammy.

“I can’t come up with anything to say. You didn’t tell me he’s coming today and I didn’t prepare anything. I talked with my mother back home yesterday and she says something about Lingzhi my grandma is taking. So that’s why I come up with this idea. I have another idea about Portuguese pirates leaving big bunch of treasure buried somewhere in Southeast Asia, for which half a million people have joined the treasure hunt project.”

“Oh, shut up. It’s rubbish. Lingzhi or Portuguese pirates.” Jina says impatiently.

“By the way I don’t understand. It’s all wild goose to me. I mean relatives, parishioners, Bollywood events. They are as wild as my Lingzhi. How come my goose is not acceptable while their goose is praised?” Pammy says.

“Oh, Pammy, you just don’t understand, do you?” Jina says and sighs.

Mini Story: The Driving Lesson

There’s a stereotype in America that Asians don’t know how to drive and I have no wish to add another piece on that pile of cliche here. However I’ve witnessed more than a handful of couples who squabble incessantly about driving–how to drive, how to drive better, road signs to watch for, how many miles above speed limit being safe from police etc. I don’t know if this is a typical thing for Asian immigrant couples and I also don’t know if this is a typical thing for other couples. I only know what I know and here is the story.

“You can’t press the brake like that, Dali. The break pad won’t even last 40,000 miles if you press it like that. And more importantly, the car behind you will slam into you if you make a sudden stop like that. You know the relationship between inertia, mass, speed, and acceleration? Let me explain to you…” Ding is teaching his wife Dali how to drive. Ding is a graduate student of Rutgers University, a brilliant scientist, who likes to give long speeches on things he’s interested in and people often get bored listening to him.

Dali just arrived in New Jersey two weeks ago from a small island in Southeast Asia where her family doesn’t own a car and doesn’t need to. Now she realized that she had to learn to drive if she doesn’t want to be stuck at home all day long while her husband works long hours at his lab.

“Let’s just say the sedan behind you weighs 3,500 pounds and the speed is 30 miles per hour and the distance between the cars is 2 feet …” Ding says but his wife Dali interrupts him,

“If I don’t press the brake hard, I may hit…”

“That’s why you want to be more vigilant and slow down before you are too close.”

The two started to argue how vigilant one has to be, how far away one starts to press the brake, if one needs to be aware of the car behind, if it is possible one being aware of the car behind. When they come back home, Dali is quite exhausted, not only from all the attentions she pays to her driving and the road, but also from her arguments with Ding.

They rent their place from Ding’s lab mate who owns a little house in Piscataway right next to the Rutgers campus. They usually parks the car on the roadside, but today they will park on the driveway since the owner of the house just drove to a conference and a retreat at Penn State University and will not be back until the week after.

Dali drives the car too close to the curb for the car to be easily turned right onto the driveway. She asks Ding to park the car since she is tired, but Ding refuses. He considers it to be a good opportunity to teach his wife to park–the car has to be steered away a little to the left first before it can be safely navigated to the destination. She tries a couple of times of backing up and driving ahead, but still can’t make the necessary turn onto the driveway. Finally Ding loses his patience. He steps out, stands right in front of the car, waves his hand to show his wife to turn the steer wheel to the left to get the car away from the curb. Dali did as directed. Then Ding steps onto the driveway. With slowly retreating steps, he signals to his wife to advance.

“Press the brake gently.” Ding’s voice resonate in the still air and through the car’s open window. Suddenly, Dali feels the car is stalled, probably by the edge of the curb which caught one of the car’s rear wheels. Dali presses harder on the accelerator and the car rushes forward.

“Press the brake gently.” Ding’s retreating into the garbage bin. He turns around and pushes the big green container away.

“Press the brake gently.” He continues his chant. Here Dali is surprised with the car’s sudden aggressive advancement and instinctively tries to press the brake, but thinks she shouldn’t.

Before she knows it, the car rolls forward in a surprising speed. She is shocked and starts to scream. Then she looks out of the window to where Ding is, but he’s nowhere to be found. Where is he? Is he dead?

“Ding!” She screams his name, but no answer. She jumps out of the car, flies to where he stood a moment ago. Right next to the green garbage bin, Ding lies there. She starts to cry, almost hysterically. He’s dead and she just killed him.

“Hahaha!” Ding suddenly sits up.

“You scares the hell out of me.” Dali said, wiping her tears. “I start to think how to deal with my guilt of being a murderer.”

“I just want to show you that if you don’t drive well, you can kill me. I want to teach you a good lesson. I mean on driving as well as on life.” Ding said.

“Excuse me?” Dali said, “Teach me? The reason the car rushed ahead is because you taught me not to press the brake so hard. I mean if I had not paid attention to your instruction, I would have pressed the brake harder and avoided such a big scare.”