i walked through chinatown today,
lower lower chinatown,
across columbus park, and onward even further to seward park
i tried to contain my nostalgia as i stood behind the excited men watching and discussing heated games of chinese chess, thinking about the groaning afternoons that i spent in extracurricular chinese chess classes after obligatory chinese school. the chess games were set to a soundtrack of the straining, gasping lilt of the erhu filtered through shouts from the soccer fields.
in true Amelie fashion, I sank fingers into and through the bins of watermelon seeds, thinking of all the times we sat at the kitchen table cracking our molars on opening those seeds to get the tiny morsel of flesh inside.
i walked slowly through the bakeries, inspecting the sweet glutinous rice treats. i felt heartsick about the Mandarin language as i listened to toddlers point out in bird-like voices the “tu shu guan” (library) to their smiling and proud mothers. heartsick because our children may never experience as close of a link to their “heritage” and language as we did, as the sons and daughters of immigrants.
i thought about my grandmother’s wrinkled hands gripping my tiny ones too tight, but how i never dared to complain. all i could think about was the pain of the handhold as she sang me songs in Fukinese, songs that i never understood and don’t remember.
i thought about the value of the mangoes my mother cut up, how she saved all the fleshy parts for us. she only ever ate off of the peels, biting off what was left after she fed us. i felt immense gratitude flood across my heart, for the times i never saw the sacrifice that helped put the grapes and strawberries and Asian pears on the kitchen table. the water added lovingly to congee, to stretch the grains of rice just a little bit further. the pots of soup that were made from not just the chicken, but the bones themselves, to stretch it just a little bit further too.
this actually haunts me regularly these days, in the face of the seeming gluttony of our $12 salads (oh and add four dollars for chicken breast).
perhaps it’s all so pessimistic. perhaps i’m dancing the fool’s dance, thinking this way. i feel almost guilty, that it’s all too easy to walk down a few blocks with a few dollars in hand acquire the rare and coveted and scarce treats of my childhood.
i feel like if i put all the words i could craft together in a bucket, it would still be too shallow to show my family how i feel about this, to tell them that i understand now. it feels a little like walking backstage and seeing what really made the play come to life.
i stood quietly behind a fence, watching a lone man practice qi gong. i studied the sweeping and dancing of his feet, the discipline behind his movements, the serenity that sat in the stillness of his face.
i know i panic daily, everything is in a rush, has to be part of a plan. it ruins lives, all this planning. let me learn how to slow down.
how do you sink into the noise around you? how do you transcend it?