Monday, February 26, 2007

Chinese New Year: Post-Pig-Party thoughts

Just got back from Portland's FCC Chinese New Year big do. This year we moved from the old digs at Legin over on 82nd and Divison to the Convention Center (aka the "Twin Peaks") downtown. All the usual suspects: adorable tykes singing and dancing, the shaolin artistes (martial, not fine), puppet shows, raffles and the lion dancers (tho the Peep was busted halfway thru the raffle and we had to miss them...). The food was Panda Express rather than Legin - and they ran out of potstickers before Mojo could have any!!! But the kids were cuterageous, Mojo chatted with the Single Moms at our Table (including Kelli of Waiting for Sprout), the Peep ran wild through Twin Peaks, played with his trucks, daddy helped him do a Jackie-Chan-style-flying-kick on the kung fu dummy and generally was a little whirlwind of energy. A good time was had.So there I was watching and listening to the aforesaid adorables (see above - this is from 2006 when we still foregathered at Legin, tho) doing something that I assume was traditional and Chinese...and I got to thinking...what the heck would we be doing if we WERE Chinese? I mean, when we get together to celebrate something American, do our kids sing "O Susanna" or "The Old Folks At Home"? Do they square dance? Do they perform "Our American Cousin" or a vaudeville show?

I know that the average Chinese is probably more "conservative" and traditional that the average American (who isn't...) but I have to think that it's hella likely that a 21st Century Chinese resident of Beijing or Guangzhou is going to be belting out the karaoke rendition of whatever the top of the pops is in Beijing and doing the Hunanese version of hip-hop rather than crooning tunes popular with great-great-grandpa's generation. Yes? No?

What ran through my head was that the FCC CNY was more along the lines of a school pagaent, with all the traditional songs and dances and "see what my little (kid's name here) has learned about her/his heritage" stuff, while the real CNY is probably more like our Thanksgiving, with Grandma making heaps of potstickers (mmmmmm...potstickers...) for the clan, Uncle Fang and Uncle Zhi getting potzed and arguing about soccer and the twentysomethings smoking in the cold out back and complaining about having to do this every year...

It made me a think that what we might be doing is the equivalent of a Chinese family raising an American adoptive kid who would travel to the ancestral homeland in a gingham dress and ask the local kids at the mall "Where's the barn raising?"
Among the celebrants was fellow ALT-er Kelli (who is even more gracious, witty and totally together in person than she is in print, BTW). I asked her as a Mandarin speaker and generally more-in-tune-with-21st-Century-China source; so, what would a bunch of Shanghai twenty- or thirtysomethings be doing for CNY? What is "fun" for a modern Chinese kid? I suddenly realized that I know absolutely NOTHING about that. What do Chinese find funny? Is there a Mandarin equivalent of "There was a young man from Nantucket"? Is there a Cantonese version of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall"?

Modern China is a vital, complex, difficult, rapidly-changing and exciting place, like any industrial or post-industrial society. Tradition is great. I love tradition. You're reading something written by a guy who owns both a kilt and a pair of hakama and a samurai sword - I'm not just traditional, I'm multiculturally traditional! I love me some tradition. BUT...our daugher isn't going to be raised with the China of 1820, but the China of 2010 and 2020.
I suddenly realized; this is way tougher than I ever thought, going into this adoption thing. It's not just that we want our daughter to be "in touch" with her Chinese heritage, but there's a whole modern China we know nothing about that she might want or NEED to know about and function in as a bi-cultural citizen of an increasingly cosmopolitan Portland/Pacific Rim community.

I'd like to give our daughter the ability to connect with the China of today (and tomorrow), not just the China of traditional medicine, the lion dances and the Yellow Emperor. I'm feeling suddenly overwhelmed. My concern is that it's hard enough for me to stay current in my native American culture - how can I help Mei-mei or Lily (or whatever we're calling her this week) become - if she wants - truly functional in the modern Chinese part of her Chinese-American world?

And what IS the Mandarin version of "There was a young man from Nantucket..."

So CNY was fun...but it raised a lot of questions for me. Hopefully the satori will be a little more concious of the occasion next time and not pop into my head during a social function. Riiiight...
Oh, and FCC? Next time, let's make sure we lay on some more potstickers...

1 comment:

atomic mama said...

I don't know the answer and I suspect it's too complex and intimidating a task to address in a blog comment, hence the lack of comments? Public ones, at least. I don't know. But I think language is a HUGE key to being able to stay in tune with modern China, and interact with modern China as it occupies the world stage. To not have that tool would likely hinder our daughter from being able to explore to the depths I'd like her to be able to. So, our goal is to learn Mandarin as a family - not just send the kiddo to language and culture class - but to do it together, and travel there as often as possible, as finances allow. I'd be interested to hear what Kelli offered up.

And insufficient potstickers at CNY? Well that's pure blasphemy!