What I Learned From My Chinese Heritage

What I Learned From My Chinese Heritage

And why I'm proud of it.

We are burning zhiqian again.

My dad drags a lighter gently across the joss paper stack's edges, and flames leap to interrupt the blue-bruised twilight. The zhiqian curl, fire hungrily charring their edges, outlining dad’s face in a tapestry of blood red and ebony. My mom and I hold each other's hands as we both think of gonggong, my grandpa. We remember different things, but our pain is the same: sharp and bitter, infused with a tinge of sweetness like an amplified aftertaste of tieguanyin tea. It has been seven years, and every year, we light the zhiqian, and every year, I worry that the memories will fade. Still, as the zhiqian rustle, I know gonggong’s essence will not.

We used to worry about running out of zhiqian, but being a Chinese-American in Southern California means that a one-hour drive teleports us to Chinatown. There, zhiqian is sold in fat bundles at variety stores along with fake jian that hang so low from the ceiling, their blades skim the part in my hair. None of the jian is worth buying, though. Years of Kung Fu have taught me that the only cheap sword worth unsheathing is one I make myself. Nonetheless, even the masters, our shifu, aren't immune to the cultural love for haggling--anything is too expensive, after all, until it is free.

Shifu also tell us that meditation is the antidote to time, and as I grow as a budding Buddhist, I believe it. When I miss my gonggong, I meditate. When my heart spins, restless with a stupefying thirst to watch the ice castles in Harbin glow as I dance in layers of storm-shadowed snow jackets, my breath smearing the air in arabesque beneath stars as bright as the zhiqian fire, I meditate. Time moves ceaselessly forward, but my culture has taught me that we progress only when we stop to reflect.

A famous Chinese proverb says that a bird doesn't sing because it has an answer—it sings because it has a song. Just as meditation teaches me humility through reflections, Chinese music has taught me vulnerability through its earnestness. My erhu can unleash the wail of a river, though it is not my bow but the soul stitched into rhythms thousands of years old that makes it sing. Amidst the music, I forget to pretend to feel nothing. In the songs of my ethnic minority group, buyi, my emotions betray me again, and I’m left as breathless by the poetry of culture as I am by its ability to so utterly understand me. Not just with music, but with land. For though buyi represent only 0.02 percent of the Chinese population, our home province, Guizhou, boasts jade mountains, bamboo-studded hills, and rivers gleaming in rain-chilled sunlight like silk. The land has so little meaning on a map but so much meaning in my head. It reminds me that the tiny is mighty, the heart is huge and the human is wonderfully small.

The night we burned the zhiqian, I told gonggong my dreams. I told him about this culture that has taught me that I am not singular but plural; that I am the sunset on one side of the world and the sunrise on the other; that I am the legacy of the Tang Dynasty and the carver of the modern odyssey; that I am a child of the dragons and an awe-brimmed cosmopolitan. I told him, with eyes closed but heart opened, that my dream was to make this a world deserving of the beauty my culture has helped me see: quiet love, reflectivity and soul-deep vulnerability.

Glossary (in order of appearance, with links to the Wikipedia entry when useful):

Zhiqian: Joss paper, essentially fake money burnt as offerings/blessings to the dead

Gonggong: Maternal grandpa

Tieguanyin: A type of Chinese oolong tea

Jian: Chinese sword

Shifu: Masters, usually used in martial arts to refer to the teachers (think Kung Fu Panda--Master Oogway)

Harbin: Capital city of the Heilongjiang province in northeastern China, famous for its ice sculptures

Erhu: Chinese fiddle, a two-stringed instrument usually used to play traditional Chinese music

Buyi: One of China's 56 ethnicities, considered an ethnic minority

Guizhou: A province in southwestern China

Cover Image Credit: Moonglass Studios

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20 Things That Happen When A Jersey Person Leaves Jersey

Hoagies, pizza, and bagels will never be the same.

Ah, the "armpit of America." Whether you traveled far for college, moved away, or even just went on vacation--you know these things to be true about leaving New Jersey. It turns out to be quite a unique state, and leaving will definitely take some lifestyle adjustment.

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1. You discover an accent you swore you never had.

Suddenly, people start calling you out on your pronunciation of "cawfee," "wooter," "begel," and a lot more words you totally thought you were saying normal.

2. Pork Roll will never exist again.

Say goodbye to the beautiful luxury that is pork roll, egg, and cheese on a bagel. In fact, say goodbye to high-quality breakfast sandwiches completely.

3. Dealing with people who use Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, or Dominos as their go-to pizza.

It's weird learning that a lot of the country considers chain pizza to be good pizza. You're forever wishing you could expose them to a real, local, family-style, Italian-owned pizza shop. It's also a super hard adjustment to not have a pizza place on every single block anymore.

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4. You probably encounter people that are genuinely friendly.

Sure Jersey contains its fair share of friendly people, but as a whole, it's a huge difference from somewhere like the South. People will honestly, genuinely smile and converse with strangers, and it takes some time to not find it sketchy.

5. People drive way slower and calmer.

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6. You realize that not everyone lives an hour from the shore.

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7. You almost speak a different language.

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8. Hoagies are never the same.

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9. Needing Wawa more than life, and there's no one to relate.

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10. You have to learn to pump gas. Eventually.

After a long period of avoidance and reluctance, I can now pump gas. The days of pulling up, rolling down your window, handing over your card and yelling "Fill it up regular please!" are over. When it's raining or cold, you miss this the most.

11. Your average pace of walking is suddenly very above-average.

Your friends will complain that you're walking too fast - when in reality - that was probably your slow-paced walk. Getting stuck behind painfully slow people is your utmost inconvenience.

12. You're asked about "Jersey Shore" way too often.

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Is Starbucks Racist?

The Philly incident has a lot of people questioning the business

As most heard on the news last week, a Starbucks in Philadelphia has caused a nationwide boycott of the chain due to accusations of racism. The boycott started after a manager at the Philadelphia location called the police on two black men who were sitting in the establishment waiting for a business partner. When the police showed up, the two men were arrested for loitering and trespassing. The manager and employees claimed the two men hadn't ordered anything and the lobby was for "paying customers only." If this were true at all locations, I would be thrown out of the Starbucks I'm currently writing this article in. I find it ironic to be writing this article in a Starbucks since I certainly don't agree with what happened.

Being half black, I have had my fair share of discrimination but never to this degree. From what I have seen of the incident, the two men were not being loud. They did not cause any kind of disturbance in the business. They were just sitting there, minding their own business, when they were escorted out by police. I have also discovered this is a common occurrence in the area surrounding the Starbucks in question. It is no surprise that discrimination and racism would occur in this area because it happens so often. I am disheartened to see this kind of blatant racism and prejudice behavior occurring today. I know it still happens. Of course it does. There will never be a time racial discrimination won't be happening. This time it was in a place of business over nothing more than the fact the manager was "scared" or "worried" about two black men in their establishment. The boycotts and the call for the shut down of the Philadelphia Starbucks are justified in my mind. There is no reason people should stand by while racial discrimination continues to happen. It is 2018 and that means it is time to speak up and stand up for what is right. No more sitting by and getting upset when this kind of thing happens. It is time for action.

Now Starbucks is trying to make amends for this instance by doing a bias training. While this is a start, this will in no way change the views of the manager. They will just be more careful about being so blatant next time. It's a nice idea to believe that enough training can change the way a person feels and believes, but the only way they will change is if they want to change. And as far as I can see - the only thing Starbucks wants to change is its now shattered reputation. With all that being said, I'm not sure it is fair to punish an entire corporation for the actions of one. Just because one manager and one establishment is racist and holds these ideas does not mean they all feel the same. Had it been a CEO or someone higher up who deals with multiple locations, I would feel very differently. It's one manager that we know of. If this continues to be a problem then, by all means, boycotting them all is justified. If you feel the need to boycott them all for this incident, that is up to you. I will not punish them all for the mistakes of one. That is almost the same as saying all black people are one way just because a few are or that all Muslims are terrorists because a few are radical. I don't believe that is right. I personally cannot discriminate to that extent based on the actions of one or a few.

Cover Image Credit: kevin laminto

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