PICTURE OF THE WEEK: cousin packin’ heat

After coming home from China this winter break, I raided my family’s old photo albums to discover some gems. This is by far my favorite:

Peng Song packin' HEAT

My yi ma (mom’s older sister) and cousin Peng Song when she was about 3 (she is 2.5 years older than me so this was probably ’88 or ’89). FWAHAHAHA.

More where this came from.

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Jeremy Lin, FTA!!!

I admit it, I am not a huge basketball fan. Or a big sports fan in general. But c’mon, with 23 year-old Jeremy Lin‘s performance over the past two games at MSG (lol, I just realized that unfortunate abbreviation), I think I may start paying more attention to the NBA. Now, before my b-ball enthusiast friends get all bandwagon-hater on me, let me just say it really does take a lot for me to become invested in a national sport. I really have never been interested in watching ESPN or following athletes. But this guy is inspiring. Reading about his story, watching his humorous youtube vids and seeing him go from benchwarmer to MVP these past couple days has seriously made me proud to be an ABC.

Jeremy Shu-How Lin (林書豪)

If you aren’t familiar with Lin, he is the first ever American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play for the National Basketball Association. Originally from Palo Alto, CA, he captained his high school team and ended up shining as first-team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year. Despite wanting to play college basketball for UCLA, he opted going to Harvard, where he was guaranteed a spot on their team (but with no athletic scholarship, as Ivys do not offer them). He excelled at the game all throughout his time there, setting Ivy League scoring records, majoring in economics, maintaining a 3.1 GPA and being an all around BOSS. After graduation, he went from going undrafted, to playing for the Golden State Warriors and then finally being pulled by the Knicks this past season.

He's 6' 3". Both his parents are 5'6''. WTF.

Despite possessing great talent, Jeremy’s journey to play professionally wasn’t easy. As you can imagine, Lin faced a lot of prejudice because of his race – it’s obvious our demographic doesn’t provide many basketball superstars, and as a result, coaches and managers just didn’t see the potential. But Jeremy has been able to persevere and transcend all that; becoming a role model for countless Asian-Americans across the country as a result. He has joined a growing crowd of individuals who are breaking out of the stereotypical Asian norm in modern America; I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for him. Not only is he well educated (insert Asian dad meme here, lol), his incredible skills and humble demeanor have honored and will continue to honor the league of ABCs. Mr. Lin, YOU MY NINJA!

And in cased you missed it, part 1 of the Jeremy Lin show:

And part 2!

AND PART 3!

JEREMY LIN, FOR THE ASIANS!!!

I’ve always sucked at Chinese tones…

If you’re a redditor, you probably saw this on the front page a couple days ago:

Here’s what it sounds like:

If you weren’t already aware, Mandarin Chinese is tonal language; the way in which you speak certain ‘words’ changes the meaning. The classic example: 妈, 麻, 马, and 骂 are four different characters with completely different meanings (mother, hemp, horse, and scold, respectively) yet they are all pronounced ‘ma’. What distinguishes them is their differing intonation; this video does a pretty good job explaining it.

For non-native speakers, this is probably the hardest thing to master when you are trying to learn the language. And as you can imagine, inability to distinguish tones can often cause awkward, lost-in-translation type situations  (I can personal attest to this – more stories to come).

Chinese is hard -__-

My Cousin’s Big Fat Chinese Wedding, pt. 2

Yo!

Sorry about the late follow-up to this post! Been busy being a dragon this past week: just joined a gym, classes started back up and my new DJ residency is taking off; so a pretty good start to the new year!

Anyways, let’s rewind about 6 weeks and head back to Humen, Guangdong, where my lovely cousin Li Xi and her new husband Wu Hai-Feng had their BOSS wedding. Like I mentioned in the last post, my cousins are pretttttttty wealthy. The day of the wedding was both exciting and exhausting for everyone, especially our family (both my uncle and grandma came down with the sickness the night before!) After the morning ceremonies and pigging out at lunch, we all booked it to the hotel where the evening reception was to take place and came down with the ITIS for a bit (gotta rest up before the next feast!)

BALL SO HARD

Finally, it was time to make our way to the ballroom; my mother dressed in her traditional red & gold chi-pao while I suit-ed up in a matching red tie. Sidenote: you’ll notice in the pictures from the slideshow below that most of the guests did not dress up for the wedding. In China, it seems that only the bridal/groom party and the parent’s of the betrothed wear formal clothing while other guests wear whatever they choose. Given the black on black two-piece, my spiky fauxhawk and shiny studs, it was pretty clear I wasn’t a native of the area. I am pretty sure guests started snappin’ pictures and asked my family if I was a famous celebrity from the states, lol.

Rather than describe the magnificence of the venue, check out the following slide show. I can’t begin to imagine how much time it took to put this all together:

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The ceremony itself was unlike anything I’ve been to before; it really felt like a red carpet event and pretty much played out like one as well. It opened up with mingling and pictures with the bride and groom at the ballroom threshold (when you see it in the slideshow, be sure to check the hilarious typo in the back drop – why must they use English phrases if they can’t read it???). After getting seated finally (900+ guests in 88 tables!) the lights dimmed and a cute slideshow of the wedding couple commenced (played to the song ‘Beauty and the Beast’ lol).

Wu Hai Feng gettin' all emotional and ish

Finally, after half of the courses were served, they began the wedding march. Similar to western weddings, the bride is escorted by her father down the aisle, however, instead of meeting the groom at the altar (in this case, canopy?), the groom approaches them to proclaim his love and ask for the father’s blessing. You can see in the pictures that Hai-Feng walked across the catwalk (to the tune of his favorite band) to face them and say his vows. It got pretty sappy here and he made everyone cry with a very sweet and sincere speech (I’m not gonna lie, I teared up a bit). My uncle, who is not the most eloquent speaker, responded in his typical jokester fashion saying something along the lines of: “Hai-Feng, you are a good dude and I like you because you have no bad habits” (snicker snicker).

My uncle crackin' jokes

After that, I was ready to get back to dominating the feast in front of me, but not 2 minutes into my lobster tail, I was ushered up by Li Xi’s mom to be part of the toasting party. I guess I was honored, but have you ever toasted 88 tables before? IT TOOK OVER AN HOUR AND A HALF!!! Later I found out that my aunt said I had to represent our family b/c  no one else on her side dressed up, lol. There was this toasting “master” who led us to each table, yelling random nonsense and filling our cups with iced tea (from a cognac bottle, haha). Finally after 5 glasses of faux Remy Martin, I returned to a table of cold, but nonetheless tasty dishes, which I pigged out on as the guests began to leave. You sure do work up an appetite pretending to get drunk.

Had to toast 88 tables... don't worry, not real booze

So here’s a quick and incomplete tally of all the absurd displays and expenses:

  • A ridiculous laser-light show opening with acrobats
  • Custom sand animation depicting their love story (couldn’t post the original but the link shows pretty much what it was like – it was definitely my favorite part!)
  • The master of ceremony was apparently a celebrity TV host from Guangzhou
  • Really piercing performances by Peking opera singers
  • A professionally shot music video performed by the bridesmaid and 24/7 photography & videography documenting the entire weekend
  • 12-course meal that included shark fin soup, giant abalone, dragon-tail lobster, roast baby pig and many other delectables
  • Times that by 88 tables!
  • And wedding gifts included a 2012 Audi TTS 2.0, set of Cartier watches, traditional solid gold necklace and bracelets, and over 500,000 in cold, hard RMB (that’s one huge hong bao)

All in all, I was told that the entire ceremony (including gifts, hotels, performances etc.) totaled to around 8 MILLION RMB (that’s about 1.3 million USD o_O). Good thing in China, it’s the groom’s family who pays for the wedding, lol

FOOD

So after digesting all of that extravagance, I began to think about the institution of marriage between East and West. Obviously, there are the cultural traditions that separate us as well as the lack of religious context. But why was it so necessary to be this grand? Though I had a blast, I couldn’t help by think how wasteful and over-the-top the whole event was (they threw out the entire CAKE!). I learned that showcasing your wealth is just something that is done in China. To display success and fortune is a part of Chinese culture; and contrary to Western values, it isn’t really considered arrogant to do so. I guess you could say that Chinese people place high esteem in material wealth; so if you got it, you might as well flaunt it. It think this traces back to China’s focus on valuing family lineage and honor through tangible measures of success.

Let me remind you again that this not your typical Chinese wedding, so forgive me if I may be over-generalizing. One thing is for sure: my cousin is never going to have to worry about money the rest of her life!

Still dreaming of that crispy pork,

John

p.s. My grandparents asked me if my wedding was going to be like this, to which I respond, 哎吔! 不会! (rough translation: AW HELLLLL NO!)

Damn… it feels good to be a DRAGON!!!

Happy Lunar New Year!

I will admit, the past year of the Hare was pretty rough for me: I experienced quite a few downers – career disappointments, sad family news and the bittersweet end to a long relationship. Additionally, I entered 2012 with a wicked cold, lazy attitude and little motivation. Well, I’m done moping around and feeling sorry for myself; it’s time to bounce back and embrace MY year! THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON!

23 Jan 2012 – 9 Feb 2013: Year of the Water Dragon

This marks a very special year for me (and many of my friends as well). This will be our 3rd cycle year (the number 3 is associated with birth and good health in Chinese culture) and our first dragon year as adults. Additionally, we were all born in ’88; the Chinese word for the number “eight” (八 Pinyin: bā) is considered lucky because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “prosper” or “wealth” ( – short for “發財”, Pinyin: fā).

According to the chinese zodiac, those born in the year of the dragon are characterized as strong, independent, ambitious and, above all else, passionate individuals that prefer leading rather than being led. They love to take risks and live life in the moment but are often quick to temper. Dragons are said to be compatible with the Monkey and the Rat (my grandparents) and incompatible with the Goat and the Ox (my younger brother, haha).

Anyways, seeing as I skipped out on my resolutions for the Gregorian new year, here are my lunar new year resolutions (8 of them, for good luck!):

  1. GET IN TO MEDICAL SCHOOL
  2. Have a solid plan B if number 1 does not turn out as hoped
  3. Update and post in bananalife at least once a week.
  4. Call my grandparents at least once a month and up my Mandarin game.
  5. Lose 10 pounds and maintain it (cliché, I know)! The need to rid myself of the second chin that appears when smiling for pictures is all too serious, my friends (I blame my recently discovered passion for grilled cheese << best recipe ever, btw). This will be achieved by the following 3 resolutions:
  6. Lace up and start running again with a goal of sub 45 min at the 2012 Cincinnati Thanksgiving day 10k race (check 2004 results for my PR).
  7. Stop cooking with butter (sorry Paula Deen)
  8. DANCE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! Time to train for what looks to be my last Show Me Stylez with my crew Arch Enemies.

FUS-RO-DAH!

John

p.s. If you’re in the STL area, you should come check out the 2012 LNYF show at Edison Theater this coming Friday and Saturday! I actually choreographed a dance for this show in 2009, definitely a fun time!

Tiger Mom Swag

Yo!

So I recently started reading the infamous “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a memoir-style book by Yale Law professor Amy Chua that talks about the her experiences raising her two daughters in the traditional -and in her case, extreme- “Chinese way”. I know I am kind of late to the party (I believe this book was all the rage about a year ago) but I recall reading the original WSJ article a while back and thinking how insanely strict this lady was -and how lucky I was to have a not-so-intense tiger mom. She seemed so over-the-top and almost borderline abusive that I didn’t want to read her book b/c I figured I’d end up just feeling sorry for her kids. But then I read later that the WSJ article actually placed the excepts out of context and misconstrued her true motivations and behavior. I think it was unfortunate that much of the criticism over Chua was delivered from people who had just read the initial article and not the actual book. Nevertheless, I have heard a lot of mixed reviews and I am excited to give it a read and develop my own opinion on it. From what it looks like in interviews and articles, her daughters seemed to have turned out to be very intelligent, polite, sociable and accomplished individuals. Regardless of the crazy, Chua must have been doing something right.

tiger mom don't play

After reading a few chapters, I find that her writing style is rather blunt, which may be is why it is so amusing. Many of her stories remind me of some of my own childhood experiences and I realized that that this book is the a perfect resource to help spur ideas for this blog. Not only that, I learned that Chua is coming to St. Louis this semester to give a talk. I wonder if she’d to sign my MCAT prep book.

Speaking of “tiger moms,” I wanna share a link to the comical blog of a fellow banana and good friend of mine, Stacey. Her tumblr, aptly titled, “My Tiger Mom: Gems of Misunderstood Wisdom,” is a collection of quotes and conversations she’s had with her sharp-tongued and unknowingly hilarious matriarch. Do yourself a favor and follow her!

Lastly, because it is awesome, here is a pic of my grandma in her favorite jacket:

TIGER GRANDMA SWAG!

Until next time,
John

My Cousin’s Big Fat Chinese Wedding, pt. 1

Welcome to my first feature post of BANANA LIFE!

As you all know, I traveled to China this past December to attend the wedding of my dear cousin Li Xi and her boyfriend of 8 years, Wu Hai Feng. Now, having only been to a few traditional western weddings in my lifetime, I really did not know what to expect with this one. All I knew was that there was gonna be A LOT of food, and A LOT of red & gold.

There was a "hong bao" with every invitation!

Well, I was certainly correct on those two accounts. What I didn’t realize until a few weeks before traveling to China was that my new cousin-in-law is an RMB-illionaire (seriously, his family is DIDDY-loaded). I learned that Hai Feng’s grandfather was a very famous chief of medicine and founder of one of the biggest hospitals in Humen (his hometown in the Guangdong province) and his father owns a very successful glass manufacturing business (which he will one day run). In addition, my uncle (Li Xi’s father and my mom’s older brother) has risen to be one of the top business managers of a corporate and residential interior design firm in Dongguan, Guangdong and is doing quite well for himself as well. Put these two families together and what do we get? I’ll let the following picture speak for itself:

I can tell you with 99% confidence that this was and will be, the most extravagant wedding I ever go to.

But before we get into the details of the actual evening ceremony, I wanted to share some of the customs that occurred prior to the extravaganza depicted above. I was overwhelmed when I heard how much had to be done to prepare for the wedding. As Li Xi said to me when I arrived a few days early, “太多麻烦!” (translation: way too much trouble!)

NOTE: Some of the traditions I am about to describe are specific to the Guangdong province, so they should not be generalized with all of China. And obviously, this is not a typical wedding since the two families are each BALLIN’ status. I just don’t want to get your hopes up when you get invited to a Chinese wedding and expect the same level of craziness, haha.

Pre-Wedding Customs:

  • The bride must buy 6 new outfits that must be packed in a red suitcase and taken to her new home to be worn during the week following the wedding. The clothes are then never worn again and discarded.
  • The bridal party must drink a sweet herbal soup consisting of the following: lotus seed, white wood ear fungus, lily bulbs, and dried red dates sweetened by rock sugar (tastes better than it sounds!)
  • The groom’s family gives the bride an herbal bath mixture that she must use the night before the wedding. The bride must also eat a roasted chicken prepared by her grandmother that same night (I have no idea what this symbolizes).
  • The bride’s hair must be brushed and done up in a bun –the style of chinese married women– by another female member of the family who is both happily married and financially successful (in this case, my mother). During this time, my mom must also drop some knowledge on her about how to be a good wife, lol.
  • The groom’s family must decorate and prepare the couple’s new home (in this case, an entire floor of their 5-story mansion o_O) with new bedding, furniture, and shiny things.
  • A bridal dowry of cash (a whole lot of it) is placed in two red buckets and strung across a pole to be carried in the ancient tradition. One of the elder members of the bride’s family must carry it to the groom’s home on the day of the wedding.

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Wedding Day Rituals

On the morning of the wedding, Hai Feng, whose family lives about 40 minutes away from Dongguan, caravanned over with his groomsmen to take us all back to his family’s mansion in Humen. While Li Xi was being prepped by my mother and accompanied by her nine bridesmaids in her newly bedazzled bedroom, I hung out with my aunt who filled me in on the wedding day customs:

  • Before the groom’s party could take Li Xi away they had to engage in a traditional “wedding door game”. Basically, the bridesmaids must block the door and prevent the groom and his party from entering. The only way the groom is allowed to enter is by correctly answering questions asked by the bridal party and offering hong bao. In ancient times and apparently some regions now, the groom’s party will force their way in by breaking down the door or windows; but given that my uncle just finished furnishing the home he said he’d kill any one who tried, lol.
  • Once in the bedroom, the groom must kiss the feet of the bride and find a hidden pair of red shoes before carrying her out of the threshold. Only then can all the parties leave for the groom’s home.
  • While traveling, the bride and groom must carry a red umbrella in order to ward off evil spirits as they cross the gates of their new home.
  • Relatives shower them with confetti and rice as pass by, which apparently is to attract the attention of the golden chicken, a symbol of health and success.
  • Lastly, the newlyweds must perform a ceremony where they burn incense and offer food and tea to their ancestors.

And FINALLY, we got to go and pig out at LUNCH 🙂 YUMMMMM

MID-DAY FEAST!

Whew! And that takes us up to around noon, lol. After food coma-ing for a bit and resting up at the hotel, we then got ready for the evening ceremony, which as you could probably tell from the picture above, was a tad insane. But I guess you’ll have to wait until next time to hear about that!

再見!

-John

My new cousin-in-law…

As you may already know, the main reason for my return to the motherland this past December was to attend my cousin Li Xi’s (Sissy’s) wedding. She emailed me out of the blue about a year ago with the news of the engagement and I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to travel back to China.

The last time I saw my cousin Li Xi was during the summer of 2002. Even though we’ve grown up on opposite sides of the planet, I’ve always felt very close to her. But having not spoken to her in almost a decade, I was pretty nervous to finally see her again after all these years. Nevertheless, once reunited, we were joking around and reminiscing as if no time had passed (even with our semi-broken language barrier). Meeting her fiance-now-husband, however, was another story. For one, my mandarin is pretty rusty and two, since he is a native Cantonese speaker, even his mandarin was not that great o_O.

Trying to connect with him was awkward at first, but we quickly made it work. After fumbling over conversation topics, I finally struck common ground on the subject of music. I could see he was trying extremely hard to make me feel comfortable as he attempted some painfully-broken English. Here was my first exchange with my new cousin-in-law, Wu Hai Feng (a.k.a. Hamilton):

Him: “Do you like blog ice peed?”

Me: “uhh, 什么 (what)?”

Him: “Umm, the… uh… hei- (runs off to his room)”

Me: (to myself) “blog… ice… peed…?”

(He returns and hands me THIS)

Me: “Ohhh… lol”

Apparently they are his favorite music group right now. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that BEP is the armpit stain of all modern music, so I just responded with: “他们还可以” (translation: they aiite). Also, no joke, the song he chose to have played while walking across the stage to deliver his wedding vows and ask my uncle for his blessing was “I Gotta Feeling.”

At least it wasn’t Nickelback.

A-B-C, easy as 一二三…

欢迎! Welcome to BANANA LIFE!

Inspired by my recent travels to the motherland, I have come to realize that being an American-Born Chinese (ABC) is pretty awesome. Not only does everyone in the western world think you are kung fu master with perfect hair, whenever you visit China, it’s automatically assumed that you are very successful and have friends in hollywood (only half-joking). Nevertheless, juggling between two different cultures has been both a blessing and a burden for us ABCs: though we can get the best of both worlds, most of us forever feel like outcasts in whatever society we are currently in. Additionally, we are often faced with situations where the values of our families don’t quite align with the values of our environment. For me, these moments can be utterly confusing, severely awkward, or painfully embarrassing… but most often than not, they are down right hilarious (retrospectively).

Banana life celebrates these moments I’ve had growing up as an ABC and serves as an outlet for all the fond memories I’ve had and will continue to have with my large and loving family. As I mature, my appreciation for my Chinese heritage has become stronger than ever; and after reconnecting with my extended family recently, I’ve decided it is finally time to record and reflect upon all the wonderful experiences I’ve had over the years. Above all else, I hope you enjoy reading and following along as I reminisce over my childhood and share new experiences yet to come. Perhaps my writing may even inspire you to go back and connect with your own roots. If not, then at least you can openly laugh at my bowl-cut.

Me picking fresh lychee (1995)

The reasons for the name of this blog are two-fold:

  1. Bananas are my all-time FAVORITE fruit. They just taste way too good to be healthy for you. Trust me, the best way to start your day is with nature’s candy bar.
  2. A banana is a term often used to describe an ABC. We’re “yellow on the outside” and “white on the inside.” Another common descriptor is the twinkie. I prefer the healthier option.

After some consideration, I believe the latter reason is a bit misleading now (but ‘banana life’ was way too catchy to pass up). When I was younger, I was no doubt a most exemplary “banana” – I absolutely hated going to chinese school, preferred to eat Happy Meals over “zhōngcān” (chinese food) any day and simply just wanted to fit in with all my white friends. Now, as I am slowly transitioning into adulthood, I am beginning to regret rebelling against my roots so much as a kid. Over the past couple years, I’ve taken a much greater interest in my heritage – taking Chinese language courses in college, speaking mandarin with my family every chance I get and really becoming proud of my culture. Subsequently, I no longer feel completely “white” on the inside nor do I feel completely “yellow” on the outside; rather, my identity has transformed into a hybrid of sorts… maybe “scrambled-egg-life” would have been a more appropriate title? Ah well, I already bought the banana life domain, lol.

My plan for the blog is to start from both ends of my experiences; starting with a recap of my most recent trip to china and alternating with tales of my family history. I’ve already written weeks and weeks worth of content as well as begun scanning a whole bunch of childhood pictures; what I hope to do is post a full-length story each Sunday and pictures/shorts throughout the week (let’s hope I can stick with that!)

I am so excited to share my old photos, memories and future experiences with you. If any of my fellow ABCs would like to contribute their own stories or blogs, please feel free to email me at john@bananalife.me. Please subscribe and enjoy!

BANANA LIFE!!!

-John (黄瑞维)

p.s. Bear with me as I am still testing out blog themes/layouts/fonts. That should all be ironed out soon!