Started off as a zephyr post on 8/5. Finished on 9/25 and queued since then. A bit of a reflection on the comic book, American Born Chinese, which I am obligated to like as an ABC myself. A pseudo spoken-word piece.
So I’m staying at my aunt’s place, right? And every now and then, she makes tea eggs for breakfast and gives some to me. One day, I was taking one, and she says “Did you know that your dad told me once ‘I swear – I’m never going to let my kid go to school with a 茶叶蛋 in her lunchbox’.
She tells me this in a kind of joking way, but it hits me hard. Because this means that my dad was really trying to integrate me into American culture and wanted to save me from a “lunchbox moment” in school. That moment when you’re immediately ostracized by everyone for bringing the home-made lunch that your parents lovingly cooked for you. That moment when they laugh and make faces at the 茶叶蛋 .
My dad never told me this motivation and I happily soaked up the American food zeitgeist. I ate school lunches religiously – every day, punching in my lunch code (03640), looking skeptically at my Indian friend’s new lunchtime creation (mac and cheese as a hamburger topping), getting sick from the poorly refrigerated cartoned milk. If I had the extra lunch money, I would scarf down Lunchables or sneak out a Choco-cone.
My dad saved me from a lunchbox moment, but he couldn’t save me from the other moments. From the other people.
The students who asked incessantly if I was dating the other Chinese guy in my grade, following up with “sooo are you related then?”.
The girl who couldn’t believe that I wasn’t Buddhist.
The exchange students yelling “Ni hao ni hao” at me in the park.
The girl who took my book of Chinese fables – the one that my folks had brought back from China so that I could understand the stories behind their sayings – and read it out to everyone in earshot as “Ching chang chong”.
Who was surprised when I yanked my book away from her.
Who gasped “I was only pretending to read it! Gosh!”
My aunt’s smile brings me back to the present, silently laughing at the little story she told. I want to grab her, to ask, “Why are you telling me this now? Are you smug about me finally eating tea eggs? Do you think I’ve abandoned my heritage?”
I want to yell at her, scream about how much my parents and I care about food, how I’ve never felt ashamed for eating weird. How I didn’t bat an eye at the black and green thousand-year-old eggs nor when my dad smiled mischievously and told me that they had fermented in camel urine for a thousand years. How I bought some for my best friends at the end of summer camp, laughing and encouraging them as they tentatively poked at the dark egg.
I didn’t have lunch box moments. I had inverse lunch box moments – proudly trying everything at least once, daring my friends to go outside of their comfort zone and have chicken feet or jellyfish. I wonder if this would still be true if my dad let me go to school with tea eggs.
I take my 茶叶蛋 to the dinner table. The shell comes off easily; its marbled cracks echoing my own.