8Asians is celebrating Mother’s Day all week (Pssst…Don’t forget, it’s May 8th!) by doing what we do best: writing about the women who raised us, nurtured us, taught us, spoiled us, protected us and occasionally for some, drove us up the wall. We love our moms and wanted to share personal stories as a tribute to their hard work.
My love for my mother is constant and unwavering. While my feelings for dad — formerly a naval commander, forever a disciplinarian — have gone from contempt as a teenager to a muted mix of pity and apathy as an adult, Mom is the one who would accompany me as a kid on field trips to the Oakland Zoo when PBS summer programming got repetitive, and buy me Costco tater-tots to go with my 95 cent adult-sized hot dog on rainy day shopping trips. To this day, she calls every day to check up on me, reminds me to grab a bite to eat during my recent stressful days as a freelancer and that she cares, even after all of these years.
That said, she drives me crazy.
I remember when I was briefly living in a gated condo community in the suburbs; I had not received the gate transmitter yet, but there was a gate code: simply press the pound key, then 9111, buzzer gate opens, Mom can drive through. I would call her and tell her this. Simple enough, right? No.
(Mandarin in italics.)
Ernie: It’s pound sign, followed by 9111.
Mom: So, 9111.
Ernie: No, pound sign. Pound-9-1-1-1.
Mom: WHAT IS… POUND SIGN?
Ernie: Uhmm.. I don’t know how to say that in Chinese. It’s the button next to the zero.
Mom: ZERO. NINE. ONE.
Ernie: NO, MOM! THE POUND SIGN.
Ernie: [sigh] Just wait until someone else opens the gate and come in behind them.
Afterwards, thanks to the power of a Google Translate page, I find that the Chinese word for number sign is “井號,” or jǐng hào. The jǐng in jǐng hào means “water well,” the hào means number. Water well number; how could she not understand that? Thanking the Gods of technology, I call her back.
Ernie: Jǐng hào! Then 9111.
Mom: (mocking Ernie’s exaggerated sing-song tone) Jǐng hào! What is that?
Ernie: Jǐng hào. You know… water.
Ernie: Wa… terr?
Mom: I’m going now. [click]
This has not been the first time things have been lost in translation.
(Mandarin in italitcs.)
Ernie’s phone: Ring, ring.
Mom: What did you eat today?
Ernie: Actually, I don’t know how to say it in Chinese.
Mom: Then say it in English.
Ernie: (sigh) I had a FALAFEL SANDWICH.
Mom: What? You had a WAFFLE SANDWICH? Why did you have that? That is for breakfast.
Ernie: No mom, FA-LA-FEL.
Mom: You should just speak in English; I’d understand that.
Ernie: I did speak in English, Mom. It’s made from beans.
Mom: [pause] So was it chicken?
Ernie: Yes, it was chicken.
Mom: Okay. See, that’s all you had to say.
Recently, she went to one of those Taiwanese strip malls, where she bought her first cellphone in her late sixties.
(Mandarin in italics.)
Ernie’s phone: Ring ring.
Ernie: Hi Mom.
Mom: I’M ON BART TRAIN. CAN YOU HEAR ME? CAN YOU HEAR THE BART NOISES? I’M ON A BART GOING TO EL CERRITO TO SEE MY FRIEND PEGGY WHO…
Ernie: Mom, why are you yelling?
Mom: BECAUSE THE BART TRAIN IS LOUD AND MY CELLPHONE IS SO SMALL. SO SMALL.
Ernie: Mom, it’s not polite to talk on the phone a train.
Mom: WHY? THERE’S NO ONE HERE ON THE TRAIN. NO ONE HERE. WHY IS IT NOT POLITE?
Ernie: (sigh) I don’t know, Mom.
Mom: WELL, THAT’S A STUPID IDEA. I HAVE TO GO; DON’T FORGET TO EAT.
The takeaway of these conversations is the following: she’s crazy and makes me pull my hair out and there have been moments when I’ve had to smoke half a pack of cigarettes driving home from her house. But she’s my mother. She loves me and I love her, language barrier be damned. I honestly couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
[Photo Courtesy of patyczak]