Dreams of Daddy, dream #3

My ten-year anniversary writing project slowed down because in the madness of moving from house to house, country to country, I’ve lost track of where my handwritten journals are. Dream #3 here is recreated from memory. Read dreams #1 here and #2 here.

Dream #3, dated autumn 2008

I walk into the room. I see him lying flat on his back, a yellow silk blanket pulled taut over his body. The blanket covers everything up to his chin.

I’ve seen this blanket before. I’ve seen Daddy lying this way before. At the funeral – the first one I had ever attended – amid my silent fears and constrained cries, I had been surprised to see an “imperial yellow” silk blanket covering my father. It looked like a lap blanket a soap opera Emperor of China would use.

Here, now, in this room, everything is still. I stand by the doorway, afraid to move. It’s so silent and still that I hold my breath, not daring to stir the air. Nervously, I enjoy this moment, suspended in time, in the space between the confirmation of my hopes and fears.

I don’t walk toward him. I stand and watch. In the quiet, if I look very carefully, I can see a slight rippling of the yellow silk. The layer of fabric over the blanket quivers and gives off a mild golden sheen.

Everything slows down. My universe for a moment stops turning on axles, everything grinds to a halt. Breathing, blinking, swallowing – all my reflexes are forced shut. Everything holds still so I can look hard at him. Look so hard so that I might see.

Is there a breeze coming in from an open window somewhere in this room? Is there an air-conditioner? The tiniest of wrinkles forms again on the yellow silk blanket.

I squint even harder, my heart rising up up up into my throat the longer I hold my breath, searching for clues.

There it is. I see it. The yellow silk covering Daddy’s body is undulating in tiny waves. Up and down, up and down, a rhythmic movement that cannot be a gust of wind. 

There it is. Confirmation of hope. My Daddy is breathing!

Relief! Joy! Happiness like I’ve never felt before. This is “pre-cancer life.”

The cancer will come, but for this moment, in this room, it isn’t here. How happy I feel in this moment in this dream, to be able to stand here, watching my Daddy breathe, knowing he is still with me.


Dreams of Daddy, dream #2, dated April 3, 2017

For fifteen months, my days and nights were consumed with physical tasks. Go to the hospital, take my hormones, feed the hunger, try to rest, make sure the baby is growing well inside of me, and then, make sure the baby – little Max Luca “Sihai” (whose Chinese name means “remembrance of the ocean,” after his grandfather “Haiyan”) – is growing well outside of me, in the big wide world.

My dream life was mostly dormant in those fifteen months.

Then, April came along. April has always been a special month. All three of us – mom, dad, and I – have our birthdays in April. I think of him even more in April.

Last night, I finally dreamed of Daddy again, two weeks before what would have been his sixtieth birthday.

I dreamed that the three of us were on the run because Daddy had accidentally committed a crime. How bizarre. He was such an upright citizen, far too dignified and cautious to even run a red light.

So, we were running from the police, but I had no fear. In my dream, there was no fear. There was only longing. Longing and wishing.

As we ran, and walked when we tired of running, I wasn’t afraid. I only wished to walk on forever with the two of them, with my mother and my father. I longed so hard to not get caught in the night, because if we got caught, we would have to stop walking together. If we got caught, someone would take us away, break us us apart, make us stop walking on together.

Night always turns into day.

Eventually, in my dream, we turned ourselves in at the police station.

There, I dropped down. I knelt at an officer’s feet, crying, desperate to tell him that there had been no crime, that I had done nothing wrong. That I only wanted to keep on walking with both my parents, with my mother and my father. That I only wanted the three of us to keep walking on together, forever and ever.

I woke up.

10 years, 10 dreams about Daddy

This is the first in a series of 10 posts I plan to write as we near the ten year anniversary of my father’s passing on August 15, 2007


“A full moon on August 15th … families reunite under the full moon.”


So the saying goes in Chinese about the 15th of August. In the lunar calendar, this day is the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally a time for families to get together. Since 2007, the date “August 15″hasn’t had its usual festive ring for me. That is because on August 15, 2007 (in the “normal” solar calendar), my nuclear family of three broke apart forever. That morning, I watched my father gasp through his last breath as his body gave way to the cancer that had found its way to his brain.

Now it’s 2017. Ten years have passed. In that time, I’ve grown, laughed, cried, succeeded at some things, failed at others, and learned a whole lot. Tonight, I just put to bed an eight-month-old baby boy who takes his name from a grandfather he hasn’t met. The circle of life continues.

Ten years feels like a nice round number, a good time to take a pause, reflect, and perhaps grieve in a way I haven’t allowed myself to before.

I feel my way through the world in prose. So, as we near the tenth anniversary of my father’s passing, I hope to share ten “Dreams About Daddy,” as well as resurrect an old blog I wrote in the early years after his departure.


Here goes, “Dreams About Daddy”, dream #1, dated November 13, 2010:

Last night, I cried in my dream. I cried when I realized I was dreaming.

It was a dream that made sense. No flying people or crazy car chases, the telltale signs that my subconscious was driving. It all seemed so normal, plausible, real:

I was in an office – my new office – going over work with team mates who were just getting to know me. As we huddled around one computer screen, he walked up, sharply dressed as always, gliding in his long confident strides. He stopped to see what we were working on. We suddenly felt so important receiving his attention.  I, especially, was happy that he would hear the witty remark I was about to make.

I said my funny thing. The others laughed. And he backed me up, added to my joke, delighting us with his signature humor.

I looked at him, so pleased that we could share this laugh together. I looked at him, glowing in my happiness, so pleased that we could stand in this sunlit room together, chat together.

Then, I saw that it was a dream. I saw that it couldn’t be. It wasn’t real.

Panicked, I seized his hands, holding one tightly in both my hands, and rushed the words out before they drowned in the oncoming tide of tears,

“Daddy, I miss you so much.”

Political parables: talking around the censors

Perhaps one of the quintessentially Chinese qualities is making best of the worst. (Hey, you kind of learn after 5000 years of trying and still not finding one stable system of self-governance!). So, the Chinese part of me got to thinking this week that the upside of all the media censorship (which feels tighter, judging by regular interruptions to my Gmail access, with Xi at the helm) is the political humor. Cultural-linguistically, we Chinese have always been fond of riddles, metaphors, and parables. We don’t like to say what we mean directly. In “New China” (since 1949), that fondness for dressing up literal meaning has been reinforced by Big Brother listening to everything we say.

Photo credit: Kim Jong Ill Looking At Things blog

Lately, there have been many “political parables” – little stories that can pass off as children’s tales or other kinds of jokes – circulating on Weibo and Weixin. The velocity with which they get forwarded around and readers’ comments to them give me a glimpse into what my countrymen and -women think about the current state of domestic and international affairs.

One popular Weibo writer I’ve been following is purportedly Choi from Pyongyang. I want to say he writes satire – a kind of text version of the website Kim Jong Il Looking at Things – but sometimes his adulatory comments on “highest commander Kim” and all the authentic (-looking) photos of North Korea that he posts make me wonder if he isn’t a Chinese-fluent North Korean agent living somewhere secret. I’ll translate here a recent posting, which brought on >1000 comments from Chinese readers and 1500+ forwards:

A 6-year-old boy likes to throw rocks at birds, but he never gets them. His neighbor Big Brother Park taught him how to aim and he got the bird, just like the adults can. The boy was very happy but the villagers started to worry that they would get hit with his rocks. So they had a meeting about locking up the little boy in a dark room. Big Brother Park quickly raised his hand in support. But every adult knows that the baddest person around isn’t the boy, but that guy Park. My story is finished.

Maybe a Western audience wouldn’t think twice about this story, but 2500+ Chinese readers got the point. The blogger is talking about China, North Korea, and the UN/international community. While a few comments laud Pyongyang Choi for his creative writing, most Chinese readers comment by extending the parable:

They’re all bad birds… (Bravo for going nuclear, and down with Western imperialism?)

Big Brother Park is a bad egg indeed, two-faced…The little boy is also bad, never thinking about moving forward but always going against the tide, trying to take the village hostage, lying everyday. Why doesn’t he learn from his neighbor in the south but always taking lessons from that brother in the east? (We have a pro-West liberal on our hands it seems. This guy admonishes China and North Korea, and looks up to South Korea).

That’s because Big Brother Park later learned that the little boy is psychotic. He’s afraid it’ll infect all the other little kids. (China’s afraid of North Korea’s brand of conservative madness spreading to radical conservatives in China).

Just a sampling of the three reader comments above gives you an idea of the spectrum of political opinions among Chinese netizens. Skimming through the 1000+ comments, I have to say a significant portion seem to be “pro-China.” Readers aren’t naive, they know it’s a dirty game in international relations. But at least they’re sympathetic to the quandary their Big Brother Park is in…

Choice political humor and Chinese people’s assessment of domestic politics to come…

Bear with me…

…while I make a couple of changes.

After losing my domain name I also lost about a year’s worth of posts and publications. In an un-savvy attempt to get it back (doing something fancy like “Importing” code) I’ve messed up a few things on my homepage, such as added a top bar with bizarre menu options! Please ignore – things will return to normal soon (fingers crossed!).

I’ll Have the Wolf, Medium Rare

Our week-long double date road trip in Provence with D&G went smashingly. Though we saw the most adventure on our first day, my favorite moments from the trip took place at a dining table (as always).

On Day 1, my G and I arrived first at the Avignon train station. We found a grassy patch outside, spread out my sarong (now in daily use as a picnic blanket), sank our teeth into hot sandwiches, and happily waited for D&G to get in. When they did, they looked fresh as daisies and bore no signs of the long flight they had just taken from Singapore to Paris, followed by a delayed train ride. The quartet complete, the men were dispatched to pick up the rental car while the women continued to soak up the brilliant Provencal sun.

When D pulled up and honked I was pleased to find the car was an Opel, a roomier vehicle than the Fiat Panda, Europe’s cheapest rental car. The Opel was still compact, but at least there was trunk space for the collective luggage. We set up the Tom Tom GPS device and were off to see the ancient Roman aqueducts, the Pont du Gard.

The drive was easy, enabled by the soothing voice of the GPS lady. The highways of Provence reminded me more of Florida than of France – sprawling depot stores (Ikea, Carrefour), abundant McDo’s, and “Formule1” motels. But interspersed with these drab, geographically indistinct roadside features were patches of deep violet (lavender fields) and profound green (grape vines and olive plants). These colorful splashes on the landscape and their aromatic emanations made it clear that we were in fact in Provence.

At any moment we expected to see our final destination rise out of the horizon, perhaps a pile of yellowing stones, a piece of old Italy in modern France. But the GPS announced in elegant British English, “You have arrived at your destination,” in front of a large medical complex. The Polyclinique du Grand Sud looked like an abode for the elderly, with not a Roman waterway in sight. We realized we must’ve made a mistake when plugging in the coordinates for the aqueducts and couldn’t blame the innocent Tom Tom for dutifully bringing us here.

Some fiddling with the GPS device, a quick change of drivers, and we were on our way, determined to find the Pont du Gard. We arrived twenty minutes later and bounded out of the car, our excitement compounded by the earlier disappointment. The parking lot of the aqueduct, set in the middle of a large forested park, was no place for modesty. Each of us deftly changed into swimming gear behind the doors of the Opel. We grabbed the bottle of wine G and I had brought from Paris and set off for the main attraction.

The Pont (“bridge”) stood majestically high and wide in the middle of a deep valley. It was a singular flat pane of ancient stones and archways – imagine if you unwound the circular Coliseum and laid it across a rapid river. Delighted, we ran towards the shallow banks of the river where canopied four-poster tanning beds lay waiting. A quick swig of red wine and we were down by the water in no time.

The water was divine, the best swim I’ve ever had. When we dipped our toes we found it chilled and crisp, too cold to swim in. But as we waded deeper and saw the other visitors completely submerged in almost-frigid waters, we decided to brave it. The ensuing submersions were hilarious. We each stuck to our preferred method: my G liked to dunk without hesitation, the girls favored a long exposition of nervous giggles and an anxious countdown, and D had to be dragged in. Despite the cold, once we were in the water it was heavenly and refreshing. I wouldn’t have gotten out till nightfall if not for the grey clouds that suddenly drifted our way. Raindrops turned to heavy rainfall, which then developed into an immense hailstorm.

We made it to the car before the hail hit but the drive to our hotel was hair-raising. The windshield wipers worked overtime but, still, we could hardly see. Most of the cars on the road pulled over to wait out the storm, but we forged on, eager to settle into cozy rooms and dry clothes. The final mile was especially stressful as we were in the historical center of Avignon. These medieval alleys were not built to accommodate cars and at every turn we wondered if we would have to get out and heave the vehicle onto our shoulders to be carried out. If we took a wrong turn, we would’ve had to choose between calling a forklift to the rescue or to mercilessly scraping the paint off the sides of the car.

But we managed to get there, and cleaned ourselves up, and set out on foot to find dinner. We passed by some restaurants advertising exotic fare like lapin (rabbit) and loup (which we decided was wolf and not fox, remembering the French title of the movie “Dances with the Wolves”). After a day of incessant snacking we were in the mood for a light dinner, so we agreed to save the loup for another day.

The opportunity to eat loup presented itself after we left Avignon and arrived in Arles. We had endured another frightening drive through even narrower alleys and our appetites were sufficiently worked up by the time we sat down at Le Galoubet, a restaurant G had researched before hand.

The vine-canopied terrace was fully booked so we sat down in the air-conditioned interior. Our corner table was flanked by one wall decorated with a large painting of a wolf striding along and another wall covered with bronze sculptures of heads of bull. This seemed to hint that gamey meats were part of the menu here and, sure enough, midway down the page we saw oven-roasted “loup” seasoned with some kind of special salt none of us recognized.

D, in an especially adventurous food mood, ordered the loup. I noticed the waitress didn’t ask “Quelle cuisson?” (“how would you like it cooked?”). Maybe loup was such an exotic meat that the average diner can’t be trusted to decide on its rareness?

All through the appetizers we discussed the loup. How it might be presented, what kind of seasoning and preparation, and whether it would taste like boar or beef. We rubbed our palms in anticipation when the main courses were brought out. Here was a roast vegetable salad, a pappardelle mixed with shreds of duck meat, a roasted chicken leg, and in front of D, the waitress set down the most awaited platter.

But the bright white ceramic vessel held at its center a slab of fish. It was a beautiful slab of fish, perfectly deboned down the center and the two halves artfully arranged upon a bedding of crisply roasted skin, yet this was no wolf!

Gingerly, I asked the waitress, “Ca, c’est le loup”?

“Oui, c’est le loup.” Affirmative, this is the “loup.”

“Mais, c’est une poisson.” I protested that this was fish, not mammal.

“Oui, le loup est c’est du poisson.”

What? Of all the non-sensical double entendres in foreign languages I had never before encountered one word that described two animals as distinct as fish and wolf.

Not wanting to accept the reality of this dish, I pointed to the painting on the wall and asked, “Mais le loup, c’est comme ca.”

Here she laughed and understood the confusion. “Ah, oui, c’est aussi le loup mais on ne mange jamais le loup comme ca.”

And there we had it, a real culinary coup de quirk. In the land where snails are salted and doused in pesto, where ducks are forced fed so their over-nourished livers can be fried, and where the smellier and moldier the better the cheese, our waitress was laughing at our ludicrous notion that a restaurant would ever serve wolf!

What a way to start!

Within an hour of D&G’s arrival in Provence we had:

1. Hit a backpacker with our trusty little rental car, the Opel. Luckily, the scruffy lad’s pack was large enough to shield his spine from suffering mortal damage from our collective inexperience with manual transmission.

2. Driven 30 kilometers to arrive at the Polyclinique du Grand Sud,and NOT the Roman Aqueducts. The neighborhood looked like a retirement community in Florida, far from the rolling fields of lavender and Gallo-Roman ruins we had so long looked forward to. Apparently GPS is imperfect.

3. Found the Roman Aqueducts (the Pont du Gard), drank a bottle of red wine, sunned ourselves brown(well, not all of us, D was still a little pale), swam under a 2000 year old bridge in refreshingly chill water, and had our toes nibbled by tiny fish. These were good things.

4. Driven through a hailstorm. Yes, HAIL.

Welcome to France, D&G!