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Bridging the Cultural Gap:  The Overseas-Asian Experience

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The Cultural Hyphen

by Andy Lowe

When I was about 15, the Ju family somehow managed to assemble the full assortment of all relatives. We filled up an entire restaurant with numerous heads of basic straight hair. Very few of them were even close to my age. They came from all over: San Francisco, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and even Hong Kong. They were all related to me in one way or another, although many were not even blood-related.

My mother forced me to say hello to everyone. My job after that was to stand there and let my parents brag about me in Chinese. It mattered not that I did not understand a word of Chinese. I always could tell when my parents were bragging about something, namely me or my siblings.

Occasionally, I would ask my brother for a translation and discover that I was "...declared a prodigy...." My parents always stretched the truth, especially when it came to out-doing other parents.

Eventually we all sat down to eat. It took about 10 seconds for the waitress to hand me a fork. This I promptly and defiantly sent back. Twenty seconds later she came back and started to pour tea for our table. My tea cup stayed untouched. Instead a bus boy came by and placed a glass of ice water before me. I poured my own tea.

We were halfway through dinner. I had not spoken a word. I never do. This is one of the reasons why I detest family get-togethers. The younger generation usually is alienated. By some strange force of nature, my grandaunt actually acknowledged me.

"So, Pe-tah, yoah muth-ah, she tell me you do very well in scool. Wat you plan do well you -eh-eh-eh for yor careeah?" My mother quickly jumped in as if to stop me from ruining her own reputation...

"Oh, he very good at Eng-lish! He very good at Science...." My mother was smiling exaggeratedly.

"Right now I'm really leaning towards music. I play the trumpet." I said this very proudly. I could hear the theme from Rocky blaring in my head.

"Actually I was thinking more of playing jazz. Kinda like Miles Davis, or Louis Armstrong." The music began to fade.

"Oh... dat's nice too." She was looking beyond me at the platter of steamed fish that was just being set down on the table. My mother tried to salvage the situation...

"Wew, righ' now he tawk abou' myoo-sic, but yoo kno' how deese gen-ar-ate-shon is...."

It took me a few seconds to recover. "Excuse me, where's the restroom?"

I climbed the stairs up to the bathroom. An old Chinese man stood blocking the bathroom door talking on the telephone and smoking a cigarette.

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