Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Boys Are from Mars, too

September 2, 2013 4 comments

Being born in the USA, the only Chinese I knew as a kid were the essentials: “Please”, “Thank you”, “money”, “cake”, and “Don’t hug me like that, Uncle Chen, that’s not appropriate touching.”

While the above words and phrases were useful for getting by at a restaurant or out of an uncomfortable embrace from a relative with wandering hands, my inability to speak fluent Chinese has always been a handicap. Never was this more evident than at the dinner table.

Whenever my parents had to talk about something they didn’t want us kids to understand, they’d speak in Chinese. Many a meal occurred where my folks engaged in lengthy conversations while we kids ignorantly sat and ate. It wasn’t until I took 3 years of Chinese in college that, looking back, I realized what my folks were talking about.  I remember one memory in particular.

We were eating dinner on a quiet Saturday evening. After a full day of sunburned play, we kids were happy to be indoors, safe from a surprise summer storm. My mom had spent the afternoon working on the meal, and it was delicious.

During the dinner, Dad nudged Mom, pointed to me with his chopsticks, and said in Chinese, “that boy’s not right.”

“I know,” Mom murmured without looking up from her bowl, “he worries me too.”

At 11 years old, I was obsessed with astronomy.  I had suspended a solar system from my bedroom ceiling and spent hours contemplating whether life existed on other planets. I was determined to communicate with these extra-terrestrials.

“Why’s he wearing that thing on his head?” Dad asked.

My Kommunicator 2000 was a piece of high-tech wizardry built by hand. It was finely-tuned, designed  to capture any alien communication that might be travelling through space. In a wearable 2 foot tall hat, it had three antennas sticking out. It was made out of cardboard, misshapen coat hangers, tape, and lot and lots of aluminum foil.

“Damn kid’s going to get zapped by lightning in the storm. The hell’s wrong with him?” said Dad.

“I know, I know,” Mom said. “Grandma calls him a Chinese Helen Keller.”

“Wait, wait. My mom said that?!´ asked Dad.

“Yes. YOUR mom said that.”

“Wow, that’s offensive…”

“I know.”

“…to Helen Keller,” continued Dad.


They both burst out laughing and continued without stopping for a full 30 seconds. We kids kept eating. They eventually calmed down.

“Why does he have tennis balls hanging from his ceiling?” asked Dad.

“They’re supposed to be planets in our solar system.”

“But none of them are painted!? They’re all still green.”

“He refuses to paint them,” Mom said.

“And there are 20 of them. So he thinks our solar system is made up of 20 Earths?” asked Dad.

“That’s what I wondered. I asked him, ‘Where’s Mars? Where’s Venus? Where’s Uranus?’ He just proudly pointed to his butt.”

“Seriously? What planet does he live on?” said Dad. “Damn. I guess that rules out Cal Tech.”

“Please,” lamented Mom.  “I ruled Cal Tech out long ago, after I clocked him spending 1 hour playing with his belly button lint.”

“But didn’t you say he would one day grow up to be an astronaut?”

“Yes, but that’s only because when he was small, he’d be so engrossed in his play. He absolutely refused to take a break to pee or poop. He’d go right in his pants. Just like an astronaut. I was being sarcastic.”

“Damn,” cursed Dad again.  He sighed loudly. Mom also sighed and tried to wave off her disappointment.

Dad grabbed one of my antennas as if it were a microphone and continued in Chinese: “Hello? Hello? Hey ET, when you grow up, don’t phone home.”

Mom cracked up again. Dad followed, and we kids cluelessly joined in the infectious laughter.

After 3 minutes of uninterrupted laughter, I asked smiling, “What?! Dad! What? What’s so funny? Tell us! Tell us, Daddy!”

We quieted down, Dad wiped his eyes and said in English, “Oh it’s nothing. We were just talking about real estate and how now’s a good time to buy.”

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