Saturday, November 03, 2007

A quick recap...

This is a short biography of my life up to now. I originally wrote this for a writing fellowship.

The first stories I remember telling began shortly after I arrived in America. I was seven years old and living in Philadelphia. In between old John Wayne Westerns and “I Love Lucy” episodes, I would devise ways for my chopsticks to defeat the soup bowls and take over the kitchen table. Incredibly resilient, the soup bowls would always return with the help of the utensils and quickly regain supremacy. My chopsticks were invariably beaten but never deterred. A few radical forks would usually join their side and turn the tide of the Kitchen Wars. I was by myself. I was entertained.

I started writing when I was in the 3rd grade in New York City. The teacher wanted the students to make up a story. Any story. My story was five sentences long and written in broken English. I was ashamed to hand it in and even worse, we had to read it out loud to the class. After I finished, a strange thing happened. They laughed. They loved it. I was hooked.

After the death of my mother to cancer, my father decided to open up a gambling casino in NYC. The fact that it was illegal seemed to encourage rather then detract him. Since I was too young to deal cards, I was shipped off to Connecticut to live with relatives. I was one of only two Asian kids in my new all American school. The other was my cousin King Loo, a name I couldn’t have made-up even if I tried.

From Junior High through High School I found myself desperately trying to adjust to my new surroundings. This was also the time when girls became interesting. However, in a town full of white faces and colored eyes, my natural tan became more of a novelty then a desirable trait in a boyfriend. Overlooked by the opposite sex, I went back to what came naturally -- telling stories.

Due to my rather dubious upbringing, my grasp of what was morally acceptable and socially prudent was sketchy to say the least. This worked to the advantage of my readers, as my naughty and criminal exploits of JJ and Tyrone became the must read for my fellow students at Kelly Junior High. I was in training.

By the age of 17 I had already logged 10 years for my relatives in their Chinese restaurant. My family considered this to be a notable achievement. I on the other hand was tired of smelling like Kung Pao Chicken. With that in mind and a bourgeoning love for writing, I approached my relatives with a proposition. I was willing to continue working 12-hour shifts in their restaurant but I had one stipulation – I wanted to get paid. I asked for 20 dollars a day. It was the summer of my senior year and I had begun to worry about saving for college. Although my request seemed simple enough, I had underestimated the full rigidity of the Chinese bureaucratic machine. My request came back “denied,” with no hopes of an appeal.

My pay was the room and board they provided – a simple truth that I could not argue with. Despite my love for Dim Sum, the thought of another 10 years in the restaurant business was more then I could stomach. With 50 dollars in my pocket I walked out of the Golden Star Chinese restaurant and out of their lives. I was free.

Some people have grand and amazing plans when they finally escape abusive relatives. My plan was to hitchhike to the warmest place I could think of – California. You could sleep in the park when it’s warm out, and drink fresh orange juice from the water fountains; that was my thinking.

Don Wilson, my best friend at the time, found me on the streets of Connecticut with my arm outstretched and my thumb pointed to the sky. I told him of my plans; he told me I was crazy, convincing me to stay just one night at his parent’s house before I left on my journey.

These are the snap decisions that at the time seem so insignificant to us – in hindsight we see them for what they truly are.

Wishes do come true. I’m not sure whether it was because my relatives were Chinese or because they ran a culinary sweatshop, but we never celebrated Christmas or Birthdays. However, that never stopped me from making wishes. My 10 year-old mind reasoned that if I asked for it enough, and if “it” didn’t pertain to money or toys, then somebody upstairs would have to eventually give into my silent pleadings. I didn’t realize that when I accepted Don’s invitation seven years later, all those late night vigils had finally been answered.

Don was the middle child of 3 boys – all of whom had been adopted into a working class, Irish-Protestant family. With the open heart of Richard and Patricia Wilson I soon became the 4th boy in the family. My journey was postponed. I got my wish. I was home.

The tale is almost at an end. Believe it or not, I did make it to college, with the support of my adopted parents. I decided to major in English and work towards a teaching degree. At the start of my third year, I took up a playwriting class as an elective. The Instructor told us to write whatever we wanted. I wrote about my life, my experiences. She found my work to be interesting and passed it along to her friend, the Head of the theatre department. One thing led to another and my play opened Off-Broadway on May 11, 1997 in New York City. The same city I arrived 17 years earlier from China. The circle was complete. I found my muse.

And the rest of my life, gravy…

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