It wasn't that I didn't like playing the piano or violin (in fact, on the numerous occasions where policing my practicing got to be too tiresome, my mother would just tell me to quit, something that I never wanted to do) or that I didn't want to learn Chinese. In actuality, though I might not have had the inner drive to practice everyday like I should have or study the current week's lesson, I also did not want to show up unprepared. Somehow, at the age of 11, it made more sense to just skip than be caught a slacker.
One time, I locked myself in my room, refusing to go to Chinese school. As my parents banged on the door alternating between sweet talking and threats, I just pictured my blank workbook sitting in a bag next to my desk. As time dragged on, even I began to recognize how ridiculous the situation was getting, but I couldn't back down. If I gave up, then I'd have to show up to class without having done my homework AND I would be late. It would be better for my dad to be pissed at me; at least that was all kept in house. I would not have labeled this behavior as “saving face” at the time, that was something that out-dated Chinese people worried about, but looking back it was definitely all pride.
However, this year held a surprise discovery! On Friday morning, my girlfriend attended this sustainable breakfast that is held weekly (because apparently hippies don't work on Friday morning). While there she noticed that someone was selling homemade mooncakes and bought two. She happened to get a box of pineapple flavored ones which I generally find to be mediocre, but the homemade touch carried the day. They're probably the best mooncakes I've had in recent memory (and certainly that I've been able to procure without the aid of my parents). I was reminded of the time that I had homemade pineapple cakes for the first time. Mindblowing.
I looked at the box more carefully. Where did these mooncakes come from? The first image that came to mind was an old ni-ni sitting in a kitchen churning out mooncakes. But if that were the case, they really wouldn't be selling them at a hippy-dippy breakfast. Clearly this must be the work of white folks. And indeed, they were created by a couple who had adopted a child from Asia and the proceeds went to their organization,Mam Non, which pairs college-aged adoptees with younger children. OK. I support that. But who taught them? The owners of a local Asian bakery and tea shop that shall remain nameless. I knew that place. I hated that place.
When I first moved to Ann Arbor I was desperate to find out where to buy Chinese food (still am, btw if you have suggestions). At some point someone pointed me to said bakery and with much anticipation of yummy dan ta (egg custard pastries) and zhe ma qiuo (sesame balls) I went over only to discover that they were being sold for at least $1.50 EACH. Compared to my memories of paying 50 cents to 80 cents for one, I refused to shell out the dough, no matter how desperate I was. Ever since then, I've held a grudge. I blamed their outrageous prices for my continued lack of chinese pastries. (This is also the reason that I was willing to walk for thirty minutes in the rain the last time I was in NYC. It was to purchase 80 cent pastries.)
But somehow, maybe it was the intoxication from homemade yue bin, I suddenly had a change of heart. I thought about all these well-meaning, financially comfortable, liberal white folks running around Ann Arbor, desperate for a chance to be diverse in the middle of the Midwest. The people who owned this pastry shop weren't assholes, they were BRILLIANT. If people are willing to pay a few dollars for a scone at a cafe, why not jack up the prices of egg tarts and pass it off as a gourmet, diverse alternative to Starbucks? I couldn't help but cackle with delight. The vengeful, petty pixie inside that I try to suppress reigned for a moment. If we're going to be exploited as exotic, then we might as well take advantage a make a buck - everybody else is: