Genre: NA Multicultural Contemporary
Title: AMERICAN PANDA
My mom greets me with a frown and pinches my sides. “Mei! Did you gain weight?”
I bat her tiny hand away easily. Even though she’s four foot ten and eighty pounds, she puts her hands on her hips and stares me down. Well, technically, she’s staring
“Are you even exercising?” she asks me. I clamp my mouth shut, afraid I’ll reveal how much time I’ve spent away from studying for dance class. My mom shakes a bony finger at me. “You need to be careful, Mei. How will you ever get a man?”
I’m probably the only college senior who sees her parents every Saturday, but I’d rather eat chicken feet than fight them. If you don’t have traditional Taiwanese parents, you don’t get to judge (and you probably don’t know how disgusting chicken feet really are).
As my dad searches for elusive street parking, Mom and I make our way into
Two waiters abandon their tasks to push three tables together to hold the massive amounts of food we’ll order. I cover my face in shame and follow the hostess underneath red ceiling lanterns to our extra-large corner table.
The mix of patrons is the usual: college students, families, and people my parents’ age. All Chinese, of course. The pungent smell of stinky tofu—yes, it’s actually called stinky tofu because it’s fermented, rotten tofu—wafts through the restaurant. It smells exactly how you would expect. What else is named stinky? Even poop doesn’t have its smell in its name.
“Yuck,” I mumble. Even after twenty-one years, I’ve never acclimated.
My mom sniffs and smiles. “Smells like home.”
“Smells like garbage,” I say.
“It’s just like the chee-se,” she says, separating the word
I shake my head. “Cheese doesn’t smell like this.”
“You’re right. Cheese is gross. This is so much better. And tastes delicious. Just try it. Once you eat it, you won’t think it smells bad anymore.”
“Okay. I’ll do that after you eat some poop,” I mumble to myself.
I sit next to the paper umbrella mounted in the corner. The Chinese calligraphy wallpaper makes me smile. This place feels as much like home as my parents’ kitchen. Add some plastic wrap over the furniture and it actually
I wait for my mom to go across the street to buy Chinese bread for the week, but she sits down and folds her hands.
“I need to talk to you before Dad arrives. Don’t get mad at me.”
“I have this friend and her son is interested in meeting you.” This again.
“I’m not interested.” Even though I know the effort is futile, I have to go down fighting.
“Just listen! He’s Taiwanese, and—”
“—he went to Brown, got a master’s at UPenn, and is now studying to be a doctor at Tufts.”
“Brown and Tufts? I thought you only approved of Harvard or MIT.”
“Well, you’re getting old. I change my standards. You made me. Your eggs are getting cold.” My mom jabs a finger into my belly.
I squirm away. “Remember in high school when dating a boy was equivalent to murdering someone? Or not getting into a top-ten school? But the second I arrived at college, my eggs are suddenly shriveling up and I have to hurry and find a husband to make babies with?”
Ahhh there it is. The money. “Why is he so pathetic that he needs his mom to find him dates?”
“Well, he’s shy. He’s a good kid. It’s hard to meet people when you’re like that.”
“Right. I’m sure he’s not an anti-social nerd with poor hygiene. It’s because he’s
“He’s good looking,” my mom continues.
“Oh, so you’ve met him?” I ask even though I already know the answer.
“Well, no, but his parents are good-looking. And his mother says he’s good-looking.”
“Oh great, that makes me feel so much better—an unbiased opinion.”
“You haven’t even met him!”
“I don’t need to. His parents are such great people. That’s all you need to know. And everyone at Bible study is trying to get Mrs. Shu to introduce her son to their daughters. She’s refused every one of them, but
“Uhh that’s creepy. She doesn’t know me.”
“Yes, but she knows
I nod, understanding now. I’ve met the daughters of the Bible study women. It’s not as great of a compliment as you might think.
“I thought you didn’t want me to have an overbearing mother-in-law after what you went through with Nai Nai,” I say, reminding her of the
“Exactly! I know his mother well and she will be a great mother-in-law. She won’t be overbearing at all.”
“Right, because she’s been so normal so far.”
I sigh. Sarcasm doesn’t translate. “No. Stop finding me dates.”
My mom slams her hand onto the table. “Your mother knows best. You’ll see. At this rate I’m going to have to pay for you to freeze your eggs. Like what my friends do.”
“Maybe we’ll see what dad has to say about this.” My dad will go ballistic at the thought of me dating. He still thinks I’m five years old.
I escape the insanity by dragging my fossilized eggs to the bathroom. When I return, my dad has arrived. “Hey Dad, guess what Mom and I were just—”
My mom cuts me off. “Look, there’s Hanwei’s parents!” She points in a much-too-obvious way.