Growing Up Asian

So, my housemate links me this video, and goes ‘You have gotta see this.’

He’s a mutt, so before anyone screams racist, his Dad was from India; so when I brought home some indian sweets the other week, he just couldn’t get excited; though he did tell me the store I got it from had some delicious spicy stuff – and I guess that explains his cast iron stomach.

Anyway, a lot of this was relatable – some wasn’t,  because I had an allowance, for example, and while my dad, oddly enough, never really pushed me to have super good grades, my mom kind of did; even though my grades were pretty good (80+ to 90s… well, except PE and Filipino, because I hated those classes) and I spent my youth pretty much with my head buried in a book. I’m not really sure what gave me my study ethic, other than “if I get this all done and out of the way already I can go do stuff I like to do” so I tended to do my homework during recess (which some teachers had issues with, and some didn’t; but this saved my ass in college because holy crap the reams of homework I had to come home with.) These days kids barely have a fraction of the seatwork or homework we had! Such low standards these days… /asianmomgrumbling

Some of the stuff that is thought of as bizzare I actually understand though. I had a friend who had the ‘bring something for your host when you go visiting, usually food’ drummed into her as part of good manners. It’s the thought of being grateful to your host for welcoming you in, and in case your host hasn’t got anything ready/is too poor to be a proper host, you have something that can be shared and spare the host embarrassment. So face is saved and food and company enjoyed.

I used to get the white hair thing too, but when my mom would get such a session, it was more a bonding and meandering conversation thing. Unfortunately for my children, they are not getting that experience because I gleefully enjoy every single white hair I am getting, with the hope that I am going to go completely white haired by the age of sixty. They get a small allowance from me and Rhys, enough maybe so if they wanted they could buy a small meal from a fast food joint or save up for something. Vincent has noticed that he takes much better care of his things than his peers though, and because he is able to value things, he gets ‘cool stuff’ like Frostmourne.

While we were preparing for my brother’s wedding, my Mom was telling Rhys about an odd little superstition that she whimsically recalled out of the blue. Some cultures have a thing about pinning money to the bride’s dress; in the case of others, cash gifts (on top of) as wedding presents. One of the things she remembered was that for her generation and older, it was considered a thing of good luck and wealth and fortune to be gifted a chamber pot (an arinola) for one’s wedding. Mom burst into giggles, admitting that she’d been terrified that she and my father would be gifted a lot of chamber pots, and what was one supposed to do with a pile of the things?

But why a chamber pot? Why was that supposed to be a symbol of good fortune (particularly, wealth?) Mom couldn’t remember just then, but figured such a strange thing ‘probably came from the Chinese.’ I remembered we had chamber pots when I was very little, and that they were still commonly used in a number of houses. Mom, of course, could not resist telling Rhys about the time when my younger brother and I (I think I might have been three? or younger) mixed together a whole large bottle of Johnson’s baby powder and that pink Johnson’s baby lotion in our (clean) chamber pot. My aunt, who had given the powder and lotion laughed when she heard about it, and bought more. I have only the vaguest memory that we were trying to make pink icing or something.

Some weeks later, when I was back in Australia, I rang her up to catch up and she told me she’d figured out the chamber pot thing. ‘Shopkeepers at the markets and sari sari stores would keep their money in a chamber pot. A clean one that’s never been used for anything else, but, it’s what people used to keep them in before, instead of drawers or cash registers.’

And, yep, I did remember seeing people keep their money in chamber pots – even when I was a teenager, I’d see some folks at the local markets using them to keep their money in; mostly the smaller bills and the coins; larger bills were kept in wallets, under one’s clothes. I suppose they were very convenient – a pot, pretty large, with a handle on it’s side, and a lid, and somewhat unlikely to get stolen, since you didn’t know back then if that chamber pot was being used for it’s original purpose. And maybe back in the day, that’s where people would hide some of their money until they could deposit it in the bank?

Brings a whole ‘nother meaning to the whole ‘pots of money’ phrase, doesn’t it? ^,^;

These times though, I don’t think that would work any more. I mean, most people wouldn’t even recognise a chamber pot nowadays. I don’t think most folks under the age of thirty would, even from back in the Philippines, unless they came from a household that still used them.

I did find myself idly wondering if they had miniature chamber pot replicas somewhere, for the symbolic invitation of wealth. … You know what, they do! I’ll have to send one to my brother, for a giggle.

3 thoughts on “Growing Up Asian

  1. Hyperion

    OMG! This was my life. The video covered everything in stunning detail about living in a Korean household in Korea and the U.S. My wife, AKA Tiger Mom, is Korean and my daughters grew up in Korea until age 7 and 3. Being a U.S. Southern country boy, my Asian wife was quite the novelty for my friends and their families. They all adapted well to taking off their shoes in our house and when we visited them we had to bring our own slippers. The chamber pots, I remember well. They were still used in Korea in the smaller villages in the 90’s when we lived there. We used to buy a polished metal chamber pot and have it engraved when an American family was returning back to the states. We would throw a party and fill the chamber pot with Soju and pear wine then everyone drank from it. After it was empty, we washed and dried it then everyone put money in it for their trip home. A Korean friend of my wife also cut my hair for me and we talked about how aggressive Asians are with education. She told me an American A is a Korean F. She was serious and her poor daughter really wanted to stick with the low effort of education all her peers were used to. Nope. Tiger Mom and her friends were ruthless about education and keeping with traditions. I will say, adapting to an Asian lifestyle has greatly improved my life. Loved this post! 🙂

    1. R.K. Modena Post author

      That’s very interesting, with the Korean chamber pot being filled with wine, then money. Is that a Korean tradition, or something that was just you and your friends? (And… why the chamber pot, or was that cultural thing?) I’ll have to share that one with my mom ^o^

      I’m not sure I qualify quite as a Tiger Mom, because my education of the kids is a bit closer to the Kipling poem If, in terms of principles, applied unisex, as my own parents did. Goodness knows we learned more outside of school than we did in it, though I do not disparage having good grades. My own health problems have kept me from being stricter in their education, but have resulted in the childrens’ home-education supplements to be more about self-reliance and ‘survive in case all the adults are sick, and the kids get better first.’

      grin Still, I will cherish that first-time attempt at cooking for Mother’s Day by then six year old son. (I’m not sure I’ve related that particular tale in this blog, but I’ve told it elsewhere before. If I haven’t I may need to fix that.)

      Nevertheless, both Rhys and I have decided to be increasingly …supplemental… in the education section of things. It’s a bit haphazard (due to Rhys’ schedule and my frequently getting sick – Vincent brings home every single plague from school) but it’s still better than most of his peers.

      1. Hyperion

        The Chamber pot was part tradition and part our Americanization of tradition. The Koreans do accommodate our weirdness as simply barbarians doing their best.
        Tiger mom had one success and one near miss. The oldest daughter had a personality that refused domination. She used to get the tigers teeth and claws a lot for that. My youngest was not into pain so she buckled down and did well and consequently got a good job. I hope she stays at it because I’ll need her to keep me well supplied with cinnamon rolls and ice cream once she puts me in the nursing home. Thankfully or hopefully, she has plenty of time to prepare.

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