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The "Wu Word" Blog

July 2019

The Crack in the Ceiling

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.

The Crack in the Ceiling

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.”    

The Crack in the 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 be here.” 

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 meet again,
Mary 

Good Lies

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 to?  Yes.  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 meet again,
Mary

 

Dumplings

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 me!   

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 chopsticks. 

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 it good.”

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. 

Dumplings have 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 meet again,

Mary 
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