The "Wu Word" Blog
A couple weeks ago, I flicked on the bathroom light switch where a warm glow of spilled over into my foyer. That is when the crack in my ceiling caught my eye.
My eyes bugged out in horror with the perfectly hair-lined crack that began on one side of the wall and then veered sharply to one side and seemed to be continuing in a straight path almost to the opposite end of the wall. I thought: “Well, this is it. The ceiling is going to come crashing down on me.”
These past few months, it has been one household issue after another. It had been one issue after another. It was never easy. It always felt like a fight. It felt like everything was falling apart. It felt like everyone was falling apart or at their seams ready to rip into shreds; Me at the top of the list. I tried to keep one of my good friend’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind: “Just be thankful that it is things that are falling apart, and not people. Things can be replaced. People cannot.” It had been a year thus far of tremendous losses and issues, and I was about to lose it with this latest one. Something different was switched on in me with this crack in the ceiling. In the past, I had panicked and cried. Now, the switch was flick on to this: I was annoyed, I was fed up, and, I was downright pissed off.
Sometimes, I think to myself that it would be just so much damn easier if I had a boyfriend, significant other, husband, or just someone/anyone living with me so we could go through it together, or, better yet, that person could be the handy person of all time to fix things for me rather than me having to figure this out all on my own of finding someone reliable and affordable to fix this stuff. However, I have come to realize that people can’t drop everything to come to your rescue because they may need some rescuing themselves. Everyone is dealing with their own stuff and probably need some saving and sanity as well. In the end, we all have our own plates of problems and have to handle them on our own. For the first time I saw that crack in the ceiling and stared at it with conviction that it was growing bigger until the ceiling caved in on me, I sat for a silent moment to really think about what I was going to do to fix this problem—and, to fix a problem, you have to know what exactly the problem or root of the problem is.
First I messaged friends and then friends of friends. One did not want to get involved. The other could not get involved. Another did not have the time. Finally, I turned to strangers to make recommendations on someone to take a look at this crack in the ceiling. One by one, the recommendations came flooding in. Too many options. Too much confusion. I bit the bullet and just went with the first recommendation. That’s how I met Michael.
When I texted Michael the picture of the crack in the ceiling, he was bluntly honest that it was a small crack and it was not right for him to charge me so much money. We both agreed on a reasonable price with me having an immediate admiration that he had not been like so many other guys who had tried to take advantage of my short stature, female gender, and ignorance in household problems. When Michael came into my place, he was so tall that his dishwater blonde-haired head nearly hit the ceiling. While I was fixated on this crack in the ceiling, he brought my attention to another faded crack in the ceiling. Great. Two cracks in the ceiling. They can be best friends with each other. We both looked up at the ceiling with, surely, my neck straining more than his.
That’s when he said, “Houses move and settle, but this is not a structural problem. Your ceilings and walls are strong and sturdy, and in very good conditions. Your place is great and in good condition all things considered. The ceiling is not going to fall on you. This is cosmetic. I think you should just leave it be.”
I stared at him completely dumbfounded. Here he had traveled in the pouring rain to get paid for a job and he was refusing my money and request. He said thoughtfully, “People’s perspectives are always interesting. I see that crack in the ceiling. You see this crack in the ceiling. You want to fix the crack in the ceiling. I want to fix your entire ceiling to get rid of the textured paint and take care of all of these cracks in your ceiling. You know that this not about the ceiling. It is not even about the crack in the ceiling. It is about perspective. You are getting fixated on this crack in the ceiling. The longer you look at it and the more you look at it then the worse it is in your mind. It is just not right for me to do this job and take your money when it is only cosmetic issue of a crack in a ceiling.”
I paused and thought
about what Michael had told me. What he
said reminded me of what my father had once said to me that if there is a blank
piece of paper and one single black dot on it that just about all of us will
focus on that one black dot rather than the entire piece of crisp and clean
white piece of paper. In response to my
Dad and to Michael, my philosophical side came out when I pensively said: “It
just goes to show you that everything and everyone break down eventually from
all the experiences, wear and tear, and even from other people. Once we break down, our cracks and breaks will
come out. Little by little. Or, sometimes, all at once. Some we can hide. Most we cannot and will always reveal in
time. When there are breaks or cracks,
we can never go back to our original form.
We are forced to try to repair and rebuild from how we are or whatever
was broken down.”
Michael ended by
saying to me, “You call me when you give yourself time and have accepted this
crack in the ceiling….when you are no longer looking and fixated on it. Call me when you are ready to fix the problem of the entire ceiling and
not just the crack in the ceiling. I’ll
We all have flaws,
cracks, and breaks. No one can ever fix
them, but come to accept them. We can
never go back to our original form before we were broken or breaking, but we
can try to build again from breakthroughs and breakdowns. We
come to accept ourselves and all our cracks to try to rebuild and repair over
time out of necessity and survival. We
have to try to look at the bigger picture, or clean white crisp of paper rather
than the black dots. Why are we so quick
to focus on the blemishes, black dots on the white pages, the cracks rather
than the bigger picture? What are some
of your cracks and breaks from life experiences and people? How did you take action to rebuild and
repair? Or, was your action to do
nothing and leave it be for time and patience to rebuild and repair?
Keep smilin’ until we
My paternal grandmother
died at the ripe age of 94-years-old. My
last memories of her was in the summer of 2014; They were the happiest memories
I had of her smiley face, missing teeth, and the way her tilted back and her
hands covered her vibrating belly when laughter erupted from her pale
rose-colored lips. My grandmother and I
could not even communicate verbally with each other. She spoke Shanghainese and Cantonese with a
twinge of Mandarin thrown in there. I spoke English and very broken
Chinese. Yet, we found a way to
communicate with hand gestures, facial expressions, and sound effects. Most of our colorful and unique language
revolved around food—of course, this should not be a surprise in the slightest.
I did not know much about my
grandmother because of language barriers, but she tried to show me a bit of her
life through old photo albums that were creased and worn out in the
binding. . She showed me pictures as a mother, a wife,
and a grandmother. She showed me
pictures before her family as a dancer decked out in silken clothes wrapped
around her slim body. These happiest of memories was before everything began to
go: first her body and eventually her mind.
I did not witness
when my grandmother’s mind began to go, but I know that before she was about to
leave this earth that the one thing the mattered the most to her were all her
children. Every single child. From the ones still alive to the ones who died. As a mere outsider observer, I can only guess
that parents somehow never see their children as adults or old or aging, but as
always their baby to protect, sacrifice, love, care, and put first. Around the time that my grandmother’s mind
began to go, one of her children had died suddenly. Being that my grandmother was 94-years-old
and already in such a delicate and vulnerable state, no one really saw the
point in telling her that her son had died. When
the people we love so dearly are fighting for life and have to hold on to hope,
suffering, or about to leave this earth, we are forced to make extremely difficult
and daunting decisions. These are the
kind of decisions that can keep us up at night, bring on wrinkles and worry,
and make us question our own capabilities and mortality to do ‘the right thing.’ We are forced into unchartered and unwanted territory
that revolves around truth and lies.
I was raised, or, at
least, I perceived to ALWAYS tell the truth—no matter how much it may hurt
someone else. After all, didn’t we all
grow up to ‘honesty is the best policy’?
I was and still am confused with this concept of ‘good lies.’ My father told me that good lies are to
protect and help someone carry on when they are maybe not able to, while bad
lies are purposefully malicious and hurtful.
A good friend once said to me that if we have nothing good to say than
might as not say it because kindness is more important than telling the truth
that can only hurt. Meanwhile, I have
other friends who say that lies are NEVER good and that the truth always have a
way of coming out—AND, when the truth does come out, it is going to hurt like
hell and ruin the relationship. After
all, it will take years and tons of memories and moments to build a relationship
with trust and respect, but it will take one lie or one supposedly bad thing to
cause a relationship to come falling down like a house of cards. The way I see it is to never judge because we
never know someone’s options that led to their decisions. I also see it that I actually think all of us
know a truth to a certain degree, but cannot face it and even lie to
ourselves. I think there are ‘good lies,’
but these good lies are in very gray areas that do not have concrete and clear
answers of what makes a lie particularly
‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Have I been lied
Have I been betrayed? Yes. Have I been told truth that hurts like hell? Yes.
Have I told lies? Yes. And, how about you?
What makes a lie
good? What makes a lie bad? Is withholding the truth the same as
lying? How did you feel when you found out that you
were lied to or vice versa when the other person found out that you had
lied? Do we all tell lies and what
makes certain lies okay and others not okay?
Would you rather know the truth, no matter how much it may hurt? Does the truth always have a way of coming
out, even it is supposedly meant to ‘protect’ someone?
Keep smilin’ until we
Growing up, my father
was always the chef in the kitchen. With
my chin cupped in my hands and my mouth watering, I asked for recipes and
ingredients. His response: “Use whatever is in the kitchen, and then use your mouth
to tell you if it tastes good or not.” I
like to think I inherited my love for food and heightened sensitive taste buds of
flavorful flavors from him.
Papa Wu was
particularly famous for his spareribs and that to-die-for juicy sauce bedded on
fluffy white rice. His spareribs were
such a staple in our family that my childhood friends who slept over asked with
wide and eager eyes and drooling mouths, “Is your father going to make HIS
spareribs?” My friends probably slept over more so for his food rather than
As my father has
aged, his wok and chopsticks were handed to my stepmother. Over time, my stepmother developed such
memorable dishes as sticky chicken wings, twice-baked potatoes, and peanut
butter rolls. When my stepmother came
into our lives, there was a newfound and blossoming love affair with noodles that
ALMOST surpassed the rice grains that I greedily shoveled into my mouth with
However, the ONE food
in the Wu household that brings all of us together are *drumroll please* :
Dumplings. Dumplings made their way
slowly into our lives and quickly into our stomachs. Truth be told, I do not even know how dumplings
became our go-to bonding dish. I just vaguely
remember my Dad, Stepmother, and me scooping our innovative creative filling of
shrimp, shards of cooked Chinese glass noodles, and pork into the very center
of the dumpling skins, spreading an index full of water on the edges, and
folding the skins together until we had our pillowy pockets of dumplings closed
up and ready to cook and eat. The back
of my throat tickles with joy when I think about dipping those steamy hot dumplings
into soya sauce, sesame oil, pungent Chinese black vinegar, and spicy hot chili
paste while the tender meat and the soft skin melt in my mouth and make me
close my eyes in sheer joy. Just about
every weekend that I visit my parents, there is a bowl of piled dumplings so
high that I could probably call it “Mount Dumpling.” Needless to say, “Mount Dumpling” disappears
quicker than it appears. I must confess
that these dumplings are now frozen from the store, but that one single memory
of making dumplings with my parents has never been forgotten.
The magical power of
dumplings returned in my life outside of my family recently when a nearby neighbor
invited me to make dumplings on a day that I was almost forced to forge due to
a broken bathroom sink pike. I scrambled,
plead, and even cried to a plumber to please fix this ASAP. I was NOT going to miss making these
dumplings. I would do whatever it
took. When there is a will, there is a
way. Almost an hour and a half late and
after a pipe duly fixed, I made it to my neighbor’s place in a very overstressed
and overwhelmed state over the latest household debacle. However, as soon as I sat down in the company
and companionship with my neighbor and three other women, every tension began
to fall away. I saw this neighbor as an
advanced dumpling maker because she had a most simple homemade recipe for the
dumpling skin. No store bought here. Everything as homemade as could be. I began to fall into an easy and soothing
pattern of roll, scoop, and pinch close.
I began to forget all my ‘adult’ and ‘first world problems.’ I also
began to remember that special memory of making dumplings with my dad and
stepmother. I heard my father who did not have any recipes in the kitchen and
all in his memories, mouth, and keen sense of taste: “Use what you got and make
On that beautiful
summer day with a balmy breeze, I made dumplings with these women who I had the
great gift and fortune of getting to know.
There was lots of laughter, lots of conversation, lots of sharing of
life stories, and, most of all, lots of eating.
Perhaps one of the reasons I love food so much is because of the great
power it possesses. Food has the power
to bring people together to create on a communal basis. Food gives an unspoken permission for people
to be vulnerable in their method of making and in a safe place of sharing. Food
has the greatest power for us got make good from what we got.
provided me with one of my most treasured memories with my parents. Dumplings gave me new memories with these
four women that I can guarantee you that I never would have even talked to if
it weren’t for this dumpling-making gathering.
When has something so simple been so incredible in bringing you closer
together to share and care for each other?
Have you ever been in a place of sharing so comfortably and easily with
people outside your inner circle? What
childhood memory do you have of food or some other commonality that brought
your loved ones together? When did you ‘use
what you got and made it good’?
Keep smilin’ until we