Thursday, June 29, 2006

Please Don't Deport Me

MSN recently offered a sample quiz of 20 questions from the United States Naturalization test on their website. Any immigrant would be required to pass the complete version, 100 or so questions, in order to gain citizenship. The questions varied on subject matter, but all were patriotic in nature- powers of government, dates of ratification, current political figures. As I feared would be the outcome, I failed. Not miserably, but still a full 5% away from baseball, McDonald's, and my civil rights. Slightly disheartening, I must say.

Contrary to first glance, I am a natural-born American citizen. My mom was born and raised in Iowa, but my dad was born in communist China, where he later fled to freedom when he was a little boy. Genetically, my sister and I ended up inheriting many physical traits from dad- dark hair, dark eyes, and enough of a variation in eye shape to have experienced that irritating playground chant that I won't type here, complete with hand-motions. I was also amused in elementary school by the concept of "Chinese jump ropes", "Chinese cuts", and "Chinese fire drills". I wasn't sure if my classmates actually believed that everyone in China jumps out of their car at stoplights and runs around in circles. I later came to realize that "Chinese" was simply a more interesting way to say "weird". All the playground stuff never bothered me because, afrter all, they made fun of everybody. The only instance of official "racism" didn't come until the 7 th grade when Matt Hubbard called me by a racial slur, and even that didn't really get to me. I knew it was wrong, but I also knew Matt Hubbard was an idiot, so if the teacher hadn't heard it I probably would have pretended I didn't either and spared us both an awkward trip to the Principal's office. The only other time I had ever gone to see the Principal was when someone attempted to flush by backpack down the toilet, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't racially motivated.

I guess thinking about it, Junior High was when I really began to realize that I was indeed half Chinese, and to the untrained eye appeared fully Chinese. It's a strange phenomenon, realizing what you look like to other people. It's similar to the outlook of the little dog. The little dog never seems to realize that he's little. A Pomeranian will go after a Great Dane without thinking twice. It took me a while to realize that people saw me as different then themselves, even though I didn't see myself that way. I remember one day walking up behind a friend who was trying to describe me to another student who didn't know who I was. "You know," she said, "she's the little Oriental girl." I recall thinking to myself, "Who is she talking about?", only moments later realizing it was me. In my mind, "Oriental" was a flavor of Raman noodles, not the first word I would use to describe myself. My eye-opening process continued in the social realm. As you may remember, Junior High centered around the endless pairing of preadolescents in both actual and hypothetical combinations of who should, could, and is "going out". The little dog phenomenon would rear its shaggy head whenever I would have a crush on a white kid but everyone would tease me about hooking up with the Chinese guy. I think I proved my point in eighth grade by going to Promotion dance with a black kid. I was never one for racial barriers, I suppose. And now, of course, I'm married to my wonderful husband Matthew, possibly the whitest man on the planet. I love you, babe.

Growing up half-Chinese did have its perks. Every year, on what was just another random day in February to my friends, I received a red envelope full of money from my dad. And the food. Oh, the food. Dad is an amazing cook who puts P.F. Chang's to shame. More significant are the "Chinese" character traits born and built into who I am: discipline, diligence, frugality, and dogged work ethic. But there are two sides to every coin, the second coming in pressure to perform, expectations, and a culture built on guilt. A friend once asked me if I liked being Chinese. I'd never really given it much thought, and I gave him the only answer I really could. I don't really know if I like being Chinese, because I've never known any different.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Best Day for the Gym

I belong to a gym that allows for month-to-month membership, which is one of its most endearing qualities. It only requires 30 days of discipline at a time. Anyone can be disciplined for 30 days. It’s after the novelty wears off that brings the true test of diligence. This is only my second month so far, and already my resolve is beginning to wane. It’s not that I dislike going. I really do enjoy working out and how it makes me feel. I enjoy feeling like I’ve accomplished something no matter what else happens that day, and somehow it takes the guilt out of that cheeseburger and fries at lunch. I enjoy the early morning drive to the gym, being able to roll down my windows without having my eyebrows singed off. And I enjoy getting a chuckle out of seeing drivers circling the parking lot for the space closest to the entrance, because Heaven forbid they’d have to walk an extra 17 steps to get to the treadmill.

My gym is actually a rec center, so I avoid a lot of the less appealing aspects of a traditional gym. There aren’t any of the those glistening gargantuan guys who’s necks have long ago disappeared into their pectorals, and spandex sightings are thankfully rare. There’s a lot of natural light in the place and good ventilation, which wards off the caged-hamster-on-its-wheel feeling. And there’s even a rock wall if I’m feeling particularly adventurous- which has only been once so far. (This experience provoked sentiments similar to those of my last ski trip, which can be read about in detail in a previous blog).

I generally spend my time at the gym at four stations. First, I stretch. Not because I really feel that big of a difference, but because it seems like that is what good people do, like washing your hands before you eat and covering your mouth before sneezing. I do the chicken-leg stretch and the I-dropped-a-quarter stretch, then a few that I make up as I go along. Once I’m feeling limbered up, I hop on one of the six elliptical machines. There’s usually one or two others that are already occupied, so I try to space myself out accordingly. It seems to be the unspoken etiquette that one does not take a machine directly beside another person if the next one over is available. Kind of like church. I am willing, however, to break protocol if necessary to secure machine number 6. Number six not only sits directly beneath the ceiling fan, it is also positioned in front of the television that broadcasts ESPN. There’s nothing like watching the closed-captioning try to keep up with play-by-play commentary. My numerical goal on the elliptical machine is always to go for thirty minutes and 2.5 miles, but in reality everyone knows that true success is staying on longer than the person next to you.

After my cardio is complete, I take a cool-down lap around the indoor track and head for the weight machines. I only do one weight machine, mostly because it’s the only one I know how to operate. I do a few sets on that and then I go to the sit-up bench thingy. This is my favorite station of my workout because I get to lie down. It’s basically a bench with a foot-holder that has variable degrees of incline, in case regular sit-ups aren’t difficult enough. I don’t really have that problem, but I slant it anyway so that when I’m gasping my way through my final set I can tell myself it’s because of the incline. Once I feel like I’ll never digest again, I go back to the weight machine for a few more arm reps before I call it a day and stumble down the stairs on jello legs, clinging to the banister with quivery arms. One thing’s for certain, it’s the only flight of stairs that I encounter where going up is easier than coming down.

I'll go to the gym tomorrow for sure. That's always the best day anyway.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Servant's Heart

At Lifegroup last night one of the guys brought up a really great self-test that I want to share with all of you:

If you think you have the servant thing down, how do you react when someone treats you like one?