Monthly Archives: May 2010

Family Friction

Family Friction

I have such a complicated relationship with my family. Maybe this is how it is for everyone (yes? no?), but honestly speaking, every time I’m about to visit my peeps, I feel a tremendous sense of dread. And then I feel guilty about my lack of enthusiasm, because I know they really are good people with good intentions. It’s just that there’s so much pressure, and I can’t say whether it’s a cultural thing or just something specific to my family but it’s this idea that one person’s happiness or sense of fulfillment relies solely on other people.

So on Monday, John and I arrived at my grandfather’s house. My parents weren’t due to arrive in Taiwan until evening. I sat down and probably had the longest “conversation” of my life with my grandfather. I put conversation in quotes, because in actuality, he only speaks Taiwanese, and I only speak Mandarin and English. We really can’t communicate in any true sense… well, I suppose I can understand certain words in Taiwanese, but really, I’m only grasping the highlights. Regardless, he immediately jumped into what’s been troubling him. He’s 89 years old. My father is his first child and oldest son. Johnny is my father’s first child and oldest son. Grandfather said my brother still hasn’t married. The family introduces lots of “qualified” women, but he rejects all of them. My grandfather said I need to talk to Johnny to urge him to settle down. My grandfather fears that he will die before seeing a great-grandson from my brother. His only hope now is me and John. So right off the bat, I’m stressed. Welcome home to Taiwan, right?

The thing is, I despise this old school mentality… this notion of continuing the line, of having children for other people. Everything about it rubs me the wrong way. And yet, there he sits before me, all old and fragile– my grandfather who has endured such hardship and made so many sacrifices. I respect his candidness. I understand that he is asking me for something that I have the capacity to give. But I will not. He’s not a bad person for wanting these things. But I’m so adamant about my choices and my life. I wish I could give him what he wants, but I have made my choice and no matter how much he asks, I will not yield. So there we sit. All I can do is listen and hold firm. We are at an impasse, and that’s just where we will have to stay.

I’m an obstinate, opinionated person but god, this was an uncomfortable setting. And the discomfort has only grown worse as my other family members continue to ask whether I will bear children and whether I have reconnected with Johnny. It’s so fucking irksome that they even ask about either. Regarding Johnny, they know that we have been estranged since 2003; yet, they refuse to accept the status quo. Sure, maybe I am being immature but I learned long ago that in order preserve my own sanity, I simply could not continue communicating with him. And so, another life decision that goes misunderstood and judged. Sure, it wouldn’t kill me to try to make amends, but why. I have determined that the relationship adds nothing to my life. I can live without. If he feels otherwise, the ball is in his court. I don’t feel motivated to try again.

And my family here is huge: my grandfather, an uncle, 3 aunts, 9 cousins, 6 nieces/nephews. Save for the little ones, every person I see asks these same two questions: when are you having kids, and did you see your brother? I’m trying to let these jabs roll off my back without feeling a need to defend my position or decision. I’m getting better, but the situation is extremely annoying.

Add to that, not just simple questioning but prodding and poking by my aunts. Oh your brother is so excited to see you. Oh, he was preparing to take you around Taipei but you never called. Oh, your parents just want one thing in this world to make them happy, and you refuse to give them a grandchild. I know, I should just let these things enter one ear and exit the other, but I take responsibility and accountability very seriously. And even if I don’t coddle/pamper my parents the way a “good Chinese daughter” is supposed to, I do feel it’s important to be good to them.

My aunts always ask why I am so detached from my parents. How come when I see them, I don’t baby them: I don’t offer them something to drink, a massage, or a tasty bite? It’s like my every move is watched and judged. They say things like, you should treat your parents with the same sweetness you treat your husband. I mean, that’s the thing: my relationships with John and my friends are totally different from those with my parents and brother. Not only that, I don’t believe in coddling– whether it’s my parents coddling Johnny, my cousin coddling her kid, or whatever. I mean, I hardly even coddle Remy and Martin and they’re the easiest relationship EVER!

Then my aunt was getting all huffy with me yesterday, because turns out her daughter has been dating this guy she met in college for 5 years. Her mom just discovered last year, and she is like on a warpath to break up the relationship. Why? Because 1) he’s short (and the genetic implications of this for progeny disturbs her) and 2) his family has no money. Meanwhile, he treats my cousin very well, and obviously, five years later, something is there. Not good enough. So just to clarify: she’d rather sacrifice the happiness of her own daughter for the future good life of her unborn grandchild. See what I have to deal with? This is the kind of old school, provincial mentality that just drives me nuts. And even if it’s so incredibly off the wall, exposure to it, even for a few days, wears on me. My aunt got super upset when I tried to argue that it’s her daughter’s choice and rejecting someone because he’s short (my height: 5’5″ or 160 cm) is ludicrous. She’s even going to have my dad talk to my cousin to put some “sense” into her. Unbelievable. And that’s the way they roll over here. My only hope is that the situation boils down to the talk with uncle vs. 5 established years of dating. It shouldn’t even come close. Don’t disappoint me, cousin.

Oh the Things We Say

Oh the Things We Say

I was just cleaning out my email and guess what I found from last week? This email excerpt was timestamped Thursday, April 29 at 10:21 a.m.

in other news, john and i have started house hunting… it’s going slowly because we’re commitment-phobes. imagine that. plus can’t buy shit for $700k. but it’s fun moguling and checking out staged homes.

Little did I know, six hours later, John would drive down from the city to view the house for possible consideration of putting in an offer. Exactly, 12 hours later, we would sit in my realtor’s office and draft the offer.

I guess every now and then, we make these spur-of-the-moment decisions (e.g. moving to Shanghai). So far, we haven’t been burned yet. Life is good to us.

My New BFF

My New BFF

Several years ago, I toyed with the idea of becoming a realtor. Since my parents love to mogul, in the very least, this was a skill/expertise that could come in extremely handy for the family. But after looking over all the materials and certifications, I decided it all sounded too laborious and tedious. And in many ways, I saw myself coming up short: like I didn’t quite have the gregarious/salesperson personality for the job… Yeah, I could probably handle the tedious stuff pretty well but talking to strangers? Ugh. Still, if I were a realtor, let me tell you, I found my realtor alter ego. My realtor is my latest BFF. Seriously, this woman is on the ball. Super prepared, very thorough, and she asks lots of questions, noting our needs, our wants, pros, and cons. And she lines shit up and coordinates things like nobody’s business.

Realistically, John and I had been “researching” housing in this area for well over a year. Frankly, going to open houses had almost become a hobby for us. Like my/our fascination with Stacy and Clinton, we were just continually amazed by how “put together” these people’s spaces were. Or at least, how incredibly polished the work of these stagers/interior decorators could be! These setups blew me away! Yeah, like world-class art collections at MoMA and the Prado rarely elicit any effect but this shit?

Like I said, we’d been looking rather casually for a long time. Then my parents visited at the end of March/early April, and we started working with our hardcore realtor. In a few weeks, we clocked in DAYS learning about the process, the documents, evaluating homes, locations, etc. We never intended to buy before May 1. Sure, dad kept reminding us of the federal and state tax credits but whatever, we were commitment-phobes. Plus, we liked our big nest egg. It allowed for freedom in an entirely different way, for example, John’s 10-month hiatus.

Then on April 29, I toured five properties in South Bay. I don’t know how this happened, but somehow, our price range now enabled us to purchase a single-family home instead of a condo. What a huge fucking difference, especially given our run-ins with home owners’ associations in Virginia AND in California. We were fed up with their bullshit! Long story short, John drove down after work on Thursday to see a home I thought could work. And just like that, we put in an offer at midnight. Yup, that’s the way we roll: resist, resist, resist, then bam! Buy it NOW and on the LAST POSSIBLE DAY!

Interestingly, the owners are an interracial couple: Chinese (American?) woman + Caucasian man. They divorced last year and had intended to put the home up for sale in the winter, but moving stuff out took longer than usual. So, the property didn’t go to market until late March. Meanwhile, it sat vacant…

I couldn’t help but wonder about the owners, who they were, how their relationship had evolved, and why it had ended. The guy had moved to the city; the woman had moved back east. This property was just dragging things on for them.

The day before us, another party had submitted an offer. The owners submitted a counter-offer. We then squeezed in OUR offer. John and I agreed to bid, but after we submitted the docs, we were nervous and uncertain and regretful as hell. The next day (April 30), I awoke with a major stomach ache. When I headed into work, I convinced myself that there was no way we would beat out the other party. The owners would simply sign, and we’d be out (and free again)! On the other hand, John had a feeling we would get it. Shortly after noon, my realtor called to congratulate us. I think even she was surprised they accepted, because we had offered significantly less than their asking price. But like I said, in a weird way, the owners’ marital misfortune was our opportunity, because they were motivated to have all this shit over and done.

As soon as our realtor broke the news, I was in shock. Like omfg, are you serious? What the hell have I done? We’re not even fixer uppers and the place doesn’t have a maxed out kitchen, which was one of our top 5 wants! It was crazy. I didn’t feel good about it at all. But later that day, I went by the house again and slowly, I accepted. Since then, I’ve gone to the house every day. And thankfully, we are both loving it more and more.

And I am so thankful my realtor is on the ball. She’s got meetings lined up this week with contractors to give us estimates on the work we want done, ideas on how to do it; I’m meeting a freaking interior designer too! Would be great to start fresh. I want it to look like HGTV! Is that so much to ask?

Actually, now John and I are really stressing. We don’t have ideas. We just know from a line-up what we like, but we could never verbalize or come up with creative ideas on how we want to do shit. I mean, windows, flooring, the fireplace facade… I don’t fucking know. Wall colors, rug colors… yup. This is going to be a shitload of work. And on top of that, we’re having to get all our shit in gear for closing, we’re going to Taiwan next month, AND then we’re going to have to move. Holy fuck, right?

Yes, we’re excited. But we’re also apprehensive and stressed. I need to start reclaiming control immediately. Yes, I have started packing already. Well, what do you expect? I need to effing downsize. Seriously. No games this time. This is another chance to be the minimalist I’ve always wanted to be. Fingers crossed.