Before we came to the US, I had envisioned a lot of things about our new life here.
Some of these things didn’t really pan out.
Firstly, we thought the weather would always be cool and windy. I knew about the famous Seattle drizzle (or ‘light rain’ as the Americans call it here) and didn’t mind it as long as it was cold. But NOONE told me how hot summer would be. And I come from a country where it’s a 100 degrees all year long! Humid and hot is bad enough. Dry and hot is just…it saps you. And it hasn’t ‘drizzled’ in more than a week. Still, not a cloud is in sight. COME ON!
Secondly, I’d totally expected to lose weight because I thought it would be hard to get hold of the ingredients needed to make the dishes I like. Malaysians love their hot and spicy cuisine and I for one cannot live without my curries and braised stuff. Well, it turns out that one CAN get most of ‘the stuff’. Suffice to say, I am feeding my family, and me, better than I should.
Thirdly, I had expected to meet a lot more Malaysians. So far, I know two, and both I met from back home. And it’s been what, Six months? I’d heard that there are like 200 Malaysians working for Microsoft or are at least in the Seattle area. Where the hell ARE all of you?
Which brings me to this time I went to the beach with the kids and a Taiwanese friend of mine. It was a Friday and man, was it PACKED. It was a miracle we could find a spot at all.
So we finally settled between like five other picnic parties under some shade and as we were setting up, I could not help eavesdropping on a group of Asian women next to us. And as I was slathering sunscreen on the girls, words in English spoken in a familiar accent came wafting towards us. I was like this hungry crazy woman, trying to catch more of it by inching closer, stealing glances and wondering obsessively if I shouldÂ go and introduce myself and ask if she was Malaysian.Â
Since we were just seated next to them, I’d caught much of the conversation (Mia, my friend, must think I’m such a nosey parker). The Malaysian-sounding lady was Chinese, and looked like she was about seven months pregnant, and was giving her friends a crash course on all the things we are forbidden as Chinese to partake in when ‘with child’.
“…especially yellow watermelon! Anything yellow, we cannot eat! Yes, tar-boo!” she said, and none too softly so I didn’t really have to rubberneck at all.
I am almost certain she is Malaysian. And judging from the subject matter, I am positive she’s Chinese. We have quite a few pregnancy taboos encompassing not only nutrition but also practices. I didn’t know about the yellow food thing except perhaps for pineapple and that’s because it contains high enzymes, but I was forbidden from eating any form of beans or sticky rice because my child might come out ‘sticky’ and in Cantonese, the word for ‘sticky’ also means ‘stupid’.
I was also banned from sewing on my bed. Not that I sew a lotÂ (lest you think I’m a mom from the 50s) butÂ I remember having bought a cross-stitch hanging of the alphabet I’d intended to make for Rae but because my mother-in-law had (many times) voiced her concerns over my sewing anything at all, particularly on the bed, I’d given it up. Apparently, whatever shape I’d sewn would appear as a scar on any given part of my baby’s body. So in this case, Rae might’ve been born with some big red letters on her bottom or worse, her face.
The thing is, I never took any of these taboos seriously. But I’d observed them (miserably) nonetheless, because I am Chinese. To do otherwise would be disrespectful both to my elders AND unborn children.
“This is not for you! This is for your baby! Imagine having to live with alphabets on your face for the rest of your life!”
Despite having witnessed the turn of several centuries, we Chinese still insist on holding on to beliefs and customs that have been time and again been proven to be nothing but utter nonsense. It is thatÂ paranoid kiasu (which means “scared to lose” in the Chinese Hokkien dialect) mentality of “you never know!”.
Imagine having been given this heirloom of say, two enormous wooden chairs from like the Ching dynasty or something,Â and your mother says because it has been in your family for generations, it is now your duty to carry them into perpetuity. And whaddya know, it also brings luck and good health and wards off evil spirits.
The problem is, you have this Zen, minimalist thing going at home. And boy, do those chairs NOT fit in. What do you do? You stick them in the garage somewhere, hoping your mother doesn’t visit in a while. Or in the guest room, although it’s super creepy expecting your friends to sleep acrosss from two chairs that don’t look like they’ve been occupied since having been removed from The Forbidden City.
You can’t auction them off because you will be cursed if you do. You can’t hide them because it’s disrespectful. You can’t really use them because they’re hideous. And because you KNOW all the intents and purposes of OWNING them (good luck, duty, the warding offÂ of evil spirits etc), you can never, EVER get rid of them.
Until the time comes for your kids to get them. And that is the real reason why those chairs will still be passed on down for generations.
Like Chinese taboos. Since you’ve suffered through the ordeal of having them, it is your solemn duty (and only fair), that you pass them on. Don’t want your kids and grandkids to miss out on all the good luck, do you?