Heritage speakers

“Why It’s Easier for Children to Become Bilingual”
“Meaty Middle” of Grammar Girl podcast episode #482
– Written by Syelle Graves, read by Mignon Fogarty

[emphasis are my own]

Many people all over the world spoke one language at home and then a different one at school, as young children. Because both languages were technically acquired in that critical period, we (and these speakers themselves!) expect them to be balanced bilinguals. However, this is rarely the case, because language dominance will occur quickly, especially if the speaker does not attend a bilingual school, or learns to read and write only in the community language. Also, if speakers don’t have other types of exposure, like regular travel to a country where they can become immersed in the other language, the school language can take over.

Linguists often refer to these bilinguals as “heritage speakers.” Heritage speakers may understand that home language better than they produce it, or, have “no accent” yet not know very basic vocabulary. The more fluent in the school language that these speakers’ parents are, the more likely the children are to lose their home language because children quickly figure out that their parents understand the school or community language. Then, their brains “resort” to the community language, in order to save resources and communicate more expediently. Heritage speakers come in many different levels of fluency, but all possess a rich and special familial and cultural connection to the home language. It can be helpful for these folks to understand that it is totally normal to default to a dominant language, and to realize how challenging it can be to maintain two languages throughout one’s life, when both languages aren’t necessary.

Heritage speakers

Chinese name numerology and other considerations

My paternal grandfather, 爷爷, gave me my Chinese name. He also named my sister and two male cousins. While it is not the case in other families, my male cousins and my sister and I share the same generational name, the second character.

I’ve always liked my Chinese name. My surname means camel and it is fairly uncommon. It even has as a radical, the character for horse (馬), which is my Chinese zodiac sign. The more popular surname that sounds the same is , which means happiness. The second character, as mentioned above is the generational name that ties my name with my sister’s and my cousins’, 文, means literary and I like to think that it comes from the artistic side of my late grandfather who passed away when I was just four or five years old. The unique part of my Chinese name is the last character, 慧. It is half of the common word for wisdom, 智慧, and I guess means wisdom on its own, too. Besides appreciating having a solid name meaning wisdom, perhaps I also like the character because its pronunciation starts with a “w” sound like my first name.

I’ve always liked my Chinese name and have been saddened – in the height of my identity crisis a couple of decades ago – it wasn’t used by anyone. My maternal grandparents referred to several of their twelve grandchildren by their Chinese names but not me and my sister. I wonder now if my mum didn’t want to use the name that her in-laws gave. Or she was so “modern” that she made her parents work with our English names.


My MIL named her three children and she also came up with the Chinese names for her five nieces and nephews who carry her maiden name. Since I was named by my grandfather, I thought it would be a patriarch’s domain (i.e., her father’s) but if she displays the most interest in it, why not let her?

I gather that of her children and nieces and nephews, I’m the one who displays the most interest in this subject and I also have the most background knowledge. It is not merely that she is naming my future child, but that is certainly a factor in my interest!

At first, MIL was pulling together names she liked, counting the number of strokes in the characters and guessing what would be auspicious. But then she dug out the naming book from her storage room packed full straight from a Hoarders episode and guided me through the process. Now, I can look things up and cobble together a name with the correct strokes to be auspicious… but I can’t read the fortunes associated with the numbers!

Here is Chinese name numerology and determining a Chinese name in a nutshell:

  1. Count the strokes in the surname and find the page with the charts for that number of strokes (first image below – page on the right)
  2. Select one of several sets of stroke counts that are determined to be auspicious in every way, e.g., 15-stroke surname matched with 9-stroke generational name and 7-stroke unique name (first image below)
  3. Select from the pages listing characters based on stroke count your generational name and unique name keeping in mind (a) the characters are appropriate for the sex of the child and (b) the elements associated with each of the characters (fire, water, earth, air) are compatible with the other characters selected (second image below)

Here is the process of reading the numerology of a Chinese name:

  1. Add up total strokes in the name – is that a lucky number?
  2. Add up the total strokes in first two characters – that number is associated with your early life fortune
  3. Add up total strokes in the last two characters – that number is associated with later life fortune
  4. Add 1 to total strokes in last character – is that a lucky number?
  5. Are the elements (fire, earth, water, air) associated with each character compatible – e.g., water extinguishes fire and they should not be together.

In the case of my name above, the total strokes for all three characters is 35 and this is a good number, denoted in the book with a circle. MIL read the fortune to me and I can’t remember it all but it was acceptable. (And what if it wasn’t??) Then we added the strokes to determine my early life fortune and later life fortune, neither of those numbers, 20 and 19, are lucky, marked with an “x”. MIL is not a master interpreter and reassured me the entire number is good and that’s all that matters!

Further, my surname has a “fire” element which is okay with the “earth” element of my generational name. But the third character is a “water” element that clashes with the fire but we’ll shrug that off, too.

Then, aside from the numerology calculations, to help you narrow down from the still large number of possibilities, there are personal considerations:

  • What would be their nickname and do I like it? Mine would have been 慧慧 (“Weiwei”) which is not bad.
  • We prefer a softer sound name that has fewer hard consonants.
  • Simplistically, we want something “easy to write” but it’s not as simple as that. I want a name that is beautiful to write, a name that does not necessarily have fewer strokes but is constructed such that it’s not too difficult to write it tidily. That is, there are some characters where if I’m not careful (or even if I am), it comes out lopsided – top-heavy or not balanced. It is the part of my name that couldn’t be helped, but I don’t think I write my surname beautifully, especially not the component on the right side. And my generational name is a little too simple – I always feel it looks awkward when I’ve written it.
  • How does it all sound together in Mandarin and in Cantonese? This is, of course, the most subjective. I don’t naturally know what sounds good and I came to accept my Chinese name fully only when I learned how it shows up in some HK singers’ names either the exact same character or homophones: Karen Mok (莫文蔚,”rhymes” with my whole name), Sammi Cheng (鄭秀) and Kelly Chan (陳琳).

So, MIL came up with a generational name: . I’m not previously familiar with this character and find it tricky to pronounce and until I get the hang of it, I might say it wrong! It’s also a bit of a balancing act to right the character, ensuring it has a solid enough base. The character was first defined to me as “handsome/pretty” and I was resistant. I’m not sure I wanted a physical attribute to be part of the name. But it also means “talented” so I’ll take it.

Then, MIL presented me with the options for the unique part, the third part of the name:

  1. A word I already know and means “accomplish, success, mature”.
  2. This was defined to me as “protect” and I quite like that attribute but found the character too simple.
  3. MIL really liked this one and told me it meant “great” and the dictionary agreed, adding “magnificent”. NPY and I didn’t like how it sounds as a nickname “宏仔”. Further, the whole name sounded flaky to me – “handsome” + “great” – so I resisted.
  4. 賢 (贤) This was defined to me as “composed” but the dictionary says “virtuous” and I quite like it but NPY didn’t. This is one complex character to write but that simplified version is ugly.
  5. I know this name from male HK singers Andy Lau (劉德華) and Alex To (杜德偉) and it means “morality, kindness”. Unfortunately, it sounds like “duck” in Cantonese and we’re so Anglophone we don’t like it or its associated nickname “德仔”.

While we are keeping the English name under wraps because – who knows, it might change – it’s different with his Chinese name. A Chinese name is full of calculation (literally!) so I feel like I can share it. It’s more of a “prediction”, a statement, than something that NPY and I have privately enjoyed as “our little secret” for several months.


Interestingly, MIL found that, just as in English, boy names were harder than girl names to find. Also, this name will set the precedent for any other child we might have and the one(s) NPY’s brother has in the future.

We also know that we won’t be putting the Chinese name on the birth certificate. This is the stance NPY’s family took for the three siblings. Meanwhile, both my sister and I have our Chinese names as part of our legal names. There’s an argument for both avenues. NPY and his siblings never had to deal with spelling out their Chinese names the way I did and the horrid spelling my parents selected. But I find it a little sad their Chinese names are not at all a part of their life, not used by grandparents either. So, when I asked NPY which way we’d spell the name, using Pinyin or Wade-Giles, he was seriously baffled. He had never “spelled out” his own name before, never needed to. We concluded that, if forced, it would be spelled the Cantonese way to match his Cantonese surname and neither of us are fond of the “zh”, “x” and “j” so prevalent in Pinyin!

It’s one thing to look up the fortunes for my early life (past) and whole life (going on) but then it started to feel like we were predicting/setting a life on earth not yet begun! Wild! And cannot be taken overly seriously. :P

Chinese name numerology and other considerations

Chinese seals and typefaces

Once upon a time, a Chinese seal was lovingly made for me. My late aunt carved it in a block of stone but part of one character (the “E”) she mistakenly carved backwards so I couldn’t ever use it.

For my next crafty project, I needed to look up my name in a particular “font” or “script” I what even are the names of different typefaces you see?

In my search, I came upon the Chinese Seal Generator and my quest is satisfied.

Actually, while I put in my Chinese name to trial the typefaces, I will need to look up the giftee’s name. Finding the Chinese Seal Generator website, in any case, is a good start.

Since no typeface names were given for each style that was available, I have – tongue-in-cheek – given them my own names below.

First row
Fat Brush Script
Your Dad’s No-Nonsense Handwriting
Calligraphy Handwriting
Chinese Arial

Second row
Chinese Hieroglyphics
Chinese Seal Typeface (the typeface I was looking for)
Chinese Comic Sans
Handwriting with a Pen

Third row
Chinese Newspaper (a.k.a. Bolded Impact Typeface)
Elegant Cursive Albeit Simplified Chinese
Comedic Movie Title Typeface
Chicken Scratch Typeface

Fourth row
My Rudimentary Ridgidly Upright No Personality Whatsoever Typeface
Chinese Reader Typeface

Chinese seals and typefaces

Cantonese proverbs poster

I think it was back in high school when I was introduced to the Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting Flemish Proverbs and I counted it amongst my favourite artwork. That was back when I also preferred Monet over the other Impressionist painters, too. It has a stark style and is a bit of an eyesore but it’s so interesting!

In 2014, in a nod to Bruegel’s work, graphic designer and cartoonist Ah To created a Chinese version for the Passion Times. Specifically, a Cantonese version, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The comic is called “The Great Canton and Hong Kong Proverbs” with the intent to propagate Cantonese culture and language and I can really get behind that. It depicts 81 (plus two bonus) proverbs – why not 88? – and is now available to overseas buyers from a link on Ah To’s Facebook page.

Several blogs have posted about this work with the translations and while I work through it, I thought I would, too, in a more succinct way, doing away with the Soundcloud links and use my Sinosplice Pinyin Tooltips plug-in – hover over the Chinese characters to get a pop-up with the characters in larger font and the pronunciation.



01 上山捉蟹(難上加難)
To catch crabs on a hill
Harder than hard, almost impossible.
02 鬼揞眼
A ghost covers one’s eyes
To fail to see/find something / A Freudian slip
03 有錢使得鬼推磨
If you have money, you can make a ghost push a millstone
Everything is possible with money; money makes the world go around.
04 鬼畫符
A ghost draws a talisman
Illegible scribble, poor handwriting
05 鬼拍後尾枕
A ghost slaps the back of one’s head
To let out a secret unknowingly
06 多個香爐多隻鬼
An extra incense burner would attract an extra ghost
Creating chance for someone to share your benefit / A foolish act to invite losses.
07 呃鬼食豆腐
To trick a ghost into eating tofu
To lure someone into a trap, to trick someone / Used to express skepticism or disbelief, “You’re kidding me!”
08 扮鬼扮馬
To masquerade as a ghost and as a horse
To play a role to deceive/trick somebody
09 放飛機
To throw a paper airplane
To break a promise/commitment / To fail to turn up for a date
10 樹大有枯枝
A big tree has some dead branches
There are good and bad people in every group.

11 床下底吹喇叭(低聲下氣)
Blowing a horn under the bed
In a begging/humble tone (kowtow position is implied)
12 佛都有火
Even Buddha gets inflamed
To a degree that is intolerable, “That’s the limit!”
13 老貓燒鬚
An old cat burns its whiskers
An expert who makes a careless mistake in his/her own expertise.
14 拉牛上樹
To pull a cow up a tree
A vain attempt to do something
15 豬乸會上樹
Female pigs can climb trees
When pigs fly
16 開籠雀
A bird in an open cage
Someone who chatters all of the time
17 兩頭蛇
Two-headed snake
Someone who works for both sides in a deal / A servant of two masters
18 床下底劈柴(撞板)
Chopping wood under a bed
Epic fail / A method that doesn’t work (If someone under a bed but moves vigorously, he would probably bang his head against the bed above him.)
19 玻璃夾萬(有得睇冇得使)
A glass safe
Something that looks good but is not practical
20 上面蒸鬆糕 下面賣涼粉
Steaming sponge cake on top, selling glass jelly below.
It usually describes women who wear heavy clothing on top but barely cover their legs with mini skirts/short shorts during cold winter.

21 掛羊頭賣狗肉
Hanging up a sheep’s head and sell dog meat
Try to palm off something
22 大石砸死蟹
A big stone crushes a crab
An unequal contest
23 倒瀉籮蟹
Spilled a basket of crabs
Messy, troublesome
24 賣魚佬洗身(冇晒聲(腥)氣
A fishmonger washes his body (no stinky smell)”
To have yet to receive a positive response (冇晒腥氣 sounds like 冇晒聲氣 which means “no news”)
25 煲電話粥
To boil telephone congee
To talk for hours on the phone.
26 冬瓜豆腐
Wintermelon and tofu
An emergency/crisis / An unfortunate event, especially death
27 倒吊沙煲(窮到冇米)
A pot hanged upside down
Poverty/penniless (implied there is no rice left)
28 十個沙煲九個蓋
Ten teapots and nine lids
Demand outnumbers supply / Not enough
29 刀仔据大樹
Use a little knife to saw down a tree
Use little capital to make big profit
30 賊佬試沙煲
A thief breaks a clay pot
Test the waters before doing bad things

31 冇柄遮(死撐)
An umbrella with a broken handle
To fight to the bitter end / To refuse to admit one is in the wrong
32 甩繩馬騮
Loose string monkey
A very naughty child / Someone no longer under the control of their superior or guardian
33 馬騮執到桔(執到寶咁開心)
A monkey got a tangerine
Someone looks very happy as if he has discovered a treasure
34 運桔
To ship tangerines
To visit a shop or a person without any particular purpose, to be “just looking” in a shop / To waste someone’s time
35 鬼食泥
A ghost eats mud
To slur your words
36 盲公食湯圓(心中有數)
A blind man eats glutinous rice balls
Know the score
37 食拖鞋飯
To eat slippers rice
Used to describe a man who is supported by a woman, i.e., he can keep his slippers on, because he doesn’t have to work / A man who sponges off a woman
38 食人隻車
To have eaten someone’s cart
To exploit or expropriate the belongings of others (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess)
39 食碗面反碗底
To eat from a bowl and then turn it over
Go back upon somebody. Play somebody false. Betray a friend.
40 食死貓
To eat a dead cat
To take the blame for something one has not done / To be a scapegoat, to “carry the can”

41 放葫蘆(吹噓)
To throw a gourd
Self-boasting, bragging
42 放飛劍(吐痰)
To throw a flying sword
To spit
43 企喺城樓睇馬打交(袖手旁觀)
To watch a horse fight from the top of a fort
Observing from the sidelines
44 飛象過河
An elephant flies across the river
To break a rule / To reach across the table for food (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess)
45 事急馬行田
In a crisis, a horse can move in the field
To be flexible, to adapt to circumstances in an emergency (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess).
46 過橋抽板
To pull up the planks after crossing the bridge
To betray one’s friends once the crisis is over, to abandon one’s friends once one is safe
47 和尚擔遮(無法(髮)無天)
A monk holding an umbrella
No respect for law and order / Unruly (無髮無天 “no hair no sky” sounds like 無法無天 “no law no heaven”)
48 牛唔飲水唔撳得牛頭低
If a cow doesn’t want to drink, you can’t force its head down
If someone is unwilling to do something, it is not possible to force them / You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
49 冇鞋挽屐走
When there are no shoes, grab the clogs and run
To withdraw hurriedly from an awkward situation
50 馬死落地行
When one’s horse dies, one has to walk
To rely on oneself, to have to get oneself through a difficulty without help.

51 捉到鹿唔識脫角
Caught the deer but can’t get the horn
To be unable to make best use of an opportunity.
52 一竹篙打一船人
Hitting everyone on a boat with a punt pole
To overgeneralise in assigning blame, e.g., to blame a whole group of people for one person’s mistake. Get tarred with the same brush.
53 缸瓦船打老虎(盡地一煲)
Hitting a tiger inside a boat full of potteries
To risk everything on one bet / To gamble everything on one plan
54 船頭尺(度水)
Plumb line on a ship
Someone who is always asking others for money (since 度水 dohk séui can mean either “to borrow money” or “to measure water”).
55 黑狗偷食 白狗當災
The black dog gets the food, the white dog gets the punishment
Somebody benefits by their wrongdoing, while another person gets the blame.
56 豬籠入水(八面亨通)
Water enters a pig basket
To have many different ways to make money, to have money coming from many different enterprises or sources.
57 濕水炮仗
A damp firecracker
Useless / Someone with a calm temperament, who doesn’t lose their temper
58 菠蘿雞(一味靠黐)
Pineapple chicken
Someone who takes advantage of other people / An exploiter
59 單眼佬睇老婆(一眼睇晒)
One-eyed man looks at his wife
Too few/simple/obvious that one can see/understand everything in a “second”.
60 狗仔抬轎(不識抬舉)
Puppies lifting/carrying a sedan chair
Fail to appreciate others’ favours/flattering (不識抬舉 not knowing how to lift/carry things)

61 畫隻耳上牆(當你耳邊風)
Draw an ear on the wall
Words treated as unimportant, advice that is ignored
62 摸門釘
To scrape the door nails
To go to visit someone but not find them at home, to arrange a meeting with someone but not to find them.
63 狗咬狗骨
A dog bites another dog’s bones
Fighting among members of the same group
64 死雞撐飯蓋
Using a dead chicken to push back the cooking-pot lid
To fight to the bitter end, to refuse to admit one is in the wrong
65 炒魷魚
To stir-fry squid
To dismiss an employee
66 劏白鶴(湯白喝)
To slaughter a white crane
To vomit, to throw up
67 風扇底傾偈(講風涼話)
Talking under a fan
Saying something rude upon others’ mistakes or misfortune, inconsiderate to others’ feeling (風涼話 a chilling talk)
68 風吹雞蛋殼(財散人安樂)
Wind breaks an eggshell
Don’t worry about losing money. Be at ease with less fortune.
69 打蛇隨棍上
To hit a snake and it crawls up the stick
To exploit a situation to one’s advantage, to ask for something or something extra by seizing a particular opportunity.
70 禾稈冚珍珠
Rice stalks covering pearls
To pretend to be poor, to hide one’s true wealth (e.g., residents of public housing estates who are too wealthy to qualify for public housing)

71 雞食放光蟲(心知肚明)
A chicken eats fireflies
To know in one’s heart, to fully understand, to not need to think further (As the chicken eats fireflies, its belly lights up)
72 冇厴雞籠(自出自入)
A doorless chicken coop
A place where you can come and go as you wish.
73 籠裏雞作反
The chickens are fighting inside the coop
Dissent withing an organisation, an internal rift, factional fighting / Infighting
74 一雞死一雞鳴
One chicken dies, one chicken crows
When one person leaves a business or an occupation, another will take it up.
75 老鼠拉龜(冇掟埋手)
A mouse pulls a turtle
At one’s wits’ end
76 扯貓尾
To pull a cat’s tail
Two people supporting each other’s stories in order to avoid a problem / To lie one’s way out of a problem.
77 捉黃腳雞
To catch a yellow-legged chicken
To catch someone having illicit sex / To arrange a trap or “set up” in which someone is blackmailed after being lured into having sex, to set a “honey trap”.
78 貼錯門神
To paste up the door gods wrongly
To become hostile, to turn aggressive and nasty (since the door gods are normally pasted up so that they face each other, put if put up wrongly they face away from each other).
79 龜過門檻(唔上唔落)
A tortoise passing a sill
Unable to solve a problem or escape from it. A stalemate. (Implying someone who can’t get on or get off.)
80 騎牛揾馬
To ride an ox looking for a horse
To be working one job but looking out for a better one

81 執死雞
To pick up a dead chicken
To take something which someone else has lost or thrown away / To take advantage of a situation / To start off a relationship with someone who has been rejected by their former lover / To get the benefit of someone else’s hard work / To score an easy goal after a shot has been blocked by the goal keeper.
82 水過鴨背
Water off a duck’s back
To make no impression on (the memory), to forget (a lesson) / Like water off a duck’s back
83 咁大隻蛤乸隨街跳
such a big frog hopping around the street
Too good to be true

Cantonese proverbs poster

Late discovery: Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth

Heaven_&_EarthA little while ago, I was scrolling through the on-screen TV guide and saw the movie Heaven & Earth was airing on on APTN, of all channels. The movie’s title meant nothing to me as I hadn’t heard of it before but being the prowl for a movie, I read the description. A Buddhist Vietnamese woman married to Tommy Lee Jones’ character who comes to America after Vietnam War? That’s enough for me to give it a try and I tuned in about a third of the way through.

Heaven & Earth (1993) rounds out Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy which consists of Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). While the preceding two movies focus on  the war from the soldier’s point of view, the final installment completed his statement with the Vietnamese perspective. Roger Ebert wrote a comprehensive analysis in 1993.

What I did see (because I tuned in a third of the way in and haven’t watched the full movie yet) rang true to me from the social isolation Le Ly felt among her American in-laws to finding her niche in Chinatown and building her fortune. I was really captivated by the climactic scene showing how war can leave just shells of people and despite the couple finally being completely honest with each other, the marriage could not survive. And, of course, Tommy Lee Jones’ character’s tragic outcome.

In the midst of creating his Vietnam War series of movies, Oliver Stone read Le Ly Hayslip’s 1989 memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and he was inspired to make his third movie from a Vietnamese perspective no matter the risk of public opinion. The plot of the movie covers the story in Hayslip’s first memoir and her 1993 publication Child of War, Woman of Peace. The on-screen worded epilogue at the end of the movie informed me how the movie is based on the memoirs and how Le Ly dedicated her energy to East Meets West, a charitable foundation she founded to help improve the health and welfare of the Vietnamese and heal some of the pain the Vietnam War caused in the US and Vietnam.

600full-when-heaven-and-earth-changed-places-cover child_big

Of course, I considered reading the memoirs but my reading list for the year is already stacked so I can’t be sure.

In an interesting twist that further motivated me to blog sooner rather than later, BBC World Service released an interview with Le Ly Hayslip on February 5, 2015, “Heaven and Earth: Le Ly Hayslip” [mp3 link]

Now what’s with the title? It is of importance and is first addressed with scrolling text in the beginning, describing the colonization of Vietnam over the centuries. “The French rulers are far away in Saigon, Hanoi or Paris, but in Ky La, life goes on as it has for a thousand years, protected by Father Heaven, Ong Troi, and Mother Earth, Me Dat. Between Heaven and Earth – Troi va Dat – are the people, striving to bring forth the harvest and follow Lord Buddha’s teachings.”

The film shows or describes the most horrific treatment of the Vietnamese in the hands of the French, Viet Cong and Americans. The power of faith ti impressive if it was gets them, at least Le Ly and her family, through the decades of upheaval and suffering. In a voiceover at the end, Le Ly figures out her place and accepts her fate. “I had come home, yes. But home had changed. And I would always be in between. South, north, east, west, peace, war, Vietnam, America. It is my fate to be in between heaven and earth. When we resist our fate, we suffer. When we accept it, we are happy. We have time in abundance, an eternity to repeat our mistakes but we need only once correct our mistake and at last hear the song of enlightenment with which we can break the chain of vengeance forever. In your heart you can hear it now. It is the song your spirit has been singing since the moment of your birth. If the monks were right and nothing happens without cause, that the gift of suffering is to bring us closer to God, to teach us to be strong when we are weak, to be brave when we are afraid, to be wise in the midst of confusion, and to let go of that which we cannot hold. The last victories are won in the heart, not on this land or that.”

last-flight-outThis all reminds me of the TV movie I would have watched around 1990 when it was released, Last Flight Out, starring an ensemble cast including Rosalind Chao (I think she was a flight attendant), James Hong and James Earl Jones (I think the latter played a military man character). The film depicted the chaos and events the days and hours leading to the withdrawl of US military forces, closing of Vietnam’s borders and South Vietnam fell under North Vietnam forces. Everyone was clamoring for a chance to get onto the last flight out and for a new life in America. I remember the movie as being one with heartwrenchingly dramatic scenarios and a heartwarming ending and would love to get to watch it again.

Late discovery: Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth

Vancouver’s recent restaurant exports to Toronto

For me, the world revolves around Toronto… and Vancouver. Hey, if I don’t pay attention to stuff going on in Toronto, it’s my disadvantage. How many things go to Toronto first?

At the rate that American companies are expanding into Canada, it’s exciting to see Canadian businesses succeeding and crossing the great prairie divide. Recently, I was listing to NPY Vancouver restaurants that I know of that have started up shop in Toronto. Not that he needs any kind of addition affirmations about his hometown. I just have to keep reminding him that the world doesn’t end at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

I did a bit of digging but this is by far not a complete list.

Long ago, Vancouver exported The Keg, the steakhouse chain. Not bad.

More recently, upscale casual dining chains Earls (which isn’t really that recent and its head office is in Vancouver while it was founded in Edmonton), Joey and Cactus Club Cafe have joined the fray. In the articles listed at the end of this post, I found that they are all actually related to each other.

But of course the interesting exports are the Asian restaurants.

  • Guu, the original izakaya concept in Vancouver, has expanded the most in Toronto with Guu Izakaya, Guu Sakabar and 4 locations of Kinton Ramen – I’ve visited the Izakaya and Kinton’s first location.
  • Kingyo, another izakaya with two locations in Vancouver (we go to Suika partly because it’s not downtown), opened under their main name
  • Hapa Izakaya, our favourite izakaya in town, was the latest to go over – since I’ve been to all Vancouver locations except for one, I made a point of hitting up the Toronto one. The Toronto website is frank about disclosing they had some problems in the beginning (when I went to dine there), closed and reopened severl months later!
  • Deer Garden Signatures, our favourite DYO noodle soup spot with three locations in Vancouver has two locations in Toronto, Richmond Hill and Scarborough
  • Zakkushi – we dined at a restaurant next to Zakkushi often but never tried this one. They have two Zakkushi concepts on Carleton and Ramen Raijin – I’ve tried Ramen Raijin.
  • Miku Restaurant, serving fine Japanese sushi and specializing in seared aburi creations, I’m most excited about. They have three restaurants in Vancouver and I hope they do well in Toronto.

And while coffee isn’t Asian, I was pleased as punch to learn recently Milano Espresso Bar is opening in Toronto. It’s kind of my neighbourhood roastery while not being exactly only a stone’s throw away. And that reminds me that earlier this year, I think, I heard that Caffe Artigiano just opened in Toronto. Mmm, Spanish latte… On the coffee note, what I would like to see from Toronto is Dark Horse Espresso Bar and Rooster Coffee House.

One of Vancouver’s cutest exports (to LA, not Toronto) is Japadog. Some fusion hot dog vendors exist in Toronto but I know the price point is lower so I’m not sure how Japadog would fare. Somehow, Vancouverites got conditioned to thinking a $6 hot dog was average!

My main source of news is Vancouver-based Scout Magazine that informs me of exports, particularly of restaurants in their network. I’d love to know what cool restaurants Vancouver has imported from Toronto that it can’t take credit for. I’m sure it’s not a one-way street!

Interesting reading about the export of Cactus Club/Earls/Joey

Vancouver’s recent restaurant exports to Toronto

The 100 and I’m so off the CW

NPY introduced me to The 100 on our six-hour flight to Maui earlier this year. Somehow, I hadn’t heard of it at all or its bland name hadn’t registered. A few years ago, this type of dystopia setting would capture my interest and it is one of the reasons why I sat through the pilot and one other episode. The 100 is currently halfway through its second season.

The pilot, aired in March 2014, starred three Asian-American actors: Kelly Hu in the one-episode role of being the implausibly righteous woman who is the girlfriend of a wannabe dictator; Terry Chen, the Canadian actor I watched in Combat Hospital; and series regular Christopher Larkin, a name new to me.

In The 100, Earth suffered catastrophic radiation exposure and a small population managed to escape and reside on a space station (the Arc) for 97 years so far. Now, life on the Arc is becoming unviable so 100 juvenile delinquents were selected to participate (unwittingly) in an experiment, sent to Earth to determine if the planet is habitable again. You can imagine the endless possible stories with 100 characters under 25 years old who have no adult supervision or limitations.

I don’t have the patience to watch the caricatures from self-righteous rebels who will do exactly everything that is a bad idea with cringe-worthy bad consequences to self-righteous “do-gooders” and worry about their fates. In particular, I pretty viscerally despise the characters of Bellamy and his sister Octavia and one of Bellamy’s wildcard thugs. I’m so over and unempathetic to whatever “coming of age” tale this might be for them.

kellu-hu terry-chen christopher-larkin

Images from imdb.com.

So, Kelly Hu showed up in the pilot and I like to remind NPY how different a pilot can be from the rest of the series and how much in advance it was filmed. She’s like a bigger name that got attached to the pilot but was an unnecessary character and we don’t see her again.

I cheered to see Terry Chen in the credits and kind of would only watch to see when he reappears (three more episodes). NPY and I get a kick out of seeing him on screen and he plays the military personnel role really well.

Christopher Larkin, being just 24, has a shorter filmography and it’s great to see he’s is a series regular on a CW show. He seems to be cast in a goofy sidekick and technically-minded role but here’s to hoping he’ll get to expand his character in this lawless society where people are carving out new niches for themselves.

Some time in the past two years, I’ve just moved on from CW shows, except for one (Hart of Dixie). Shows like Gossip Girl and, to a lesser extent, 90210 were the last straw for me. As I get older, I want to see people who represent me on the screen, not college-aged twentysomethings with envy-inducing implausibly fabulous lives and gracefully (at least, successfully) navigating adult scenarios. I get it – I’m approaching the end of or out of the network’s target demographic with every passing year.

I watched Vampire Diaries for a few seasons because I do like Nina Dobrev (Canadian!) and Ian Somerhalder so very much but the vampires and werewolves lore just got really old and convoluted with some bad joke that every character is just going to become some kind of fantasy creature and I went from caring little to not at all. I watched only the pilot of Beauty and the Beast and shuddered – perhaps I wasn’t being fair. Veronica Mars was a great show on the CW that was so wholesome by comparison and smart without being obnoxious.

So, Hart of Dixie is my own remaining CW guilty pleasure because the characters are closer to my age and legitimately in adult situations. It’s still set in an unrealistic place (Bluebell that is seemingly caught in mid-twentieth century style) but just a darling weekly rom-com kind of drama.

The 100 and I’m so off the CW

Year of the Sheep commemorative items shopping DONE (or so she thinks)

Given my last post, you’d think that I’m some kind of deep believer in the Chinese zodiac. Not at all. Erm…

The Chinese New Year collections put forth by Canada Post and Starbucks each year get my attention. I fawn over the cute animals, generally sniff at the odd artistic style, and fall all over the ones with significance to me. Like how I use the Year of the Horse card as my default card in my Starbucks app. Not so much a coin collector (although the stash I do have might contradict me) – I don’t buy coins. Price point is higher, too. ;)

Usually, I’m late to the game. Getting the stamps is fairly easy but I forget and find that every Starbucks is out of the Chinese New Year card. The New Year is a little later this year (February 19) but I’m also all over it. Because Ebates.ca.

Haha, I have learned my lesson. I don’t shop online overly but I have rued in the recent past purchases I have made without checking if the shop is affiliated with Ebates. Hopefully nevermore! Both Starbucks (Canada) and Canada Post are with Ebates and I handily got some rebate while crazily collecting Chinese New Year paraphernalia.

Starbucks Canada (and US)

Let’s start off with the easy one – one choice for Year of the Sheep Starbucks cards whether you’re in the US shop or the Canadian one. I checked because I would be mighty torn if the two countries had different one and which ever design should I set as my default then??


Canada Post

I find the scroll look of the souvenir sheet striking – must be the Chinese in me. Even more striking is the limited edition (only 700 produced) framed souvenir sheet (picture on the right) but it is beyond my budget. “The souvenir sheet is decorated with a rain of gold petals, representing an idealized landscape where three rams rest under a tree filled with plum blossoms. The design is inspired by China’s Danxia mountains and created by stamp designer Hélène L’Heureux who draws on the rams peacefulness.”

CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-souvenier-sheet CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-framed-souvenir-sheet

The souvenir sheet is featured again on the souvenir sheet official first day cover. It doubles as a lucky red pouch so should we use it for someone, that someone is really special to us, lol.


I picked up an official first day cover because it actually features the domestic stamp with the three rams sitting peacefully together. If I’m going to frame all of the materials together, this more gray tone piece will offset all of the red and gold!


Then, what did I spy? A Year of the Horse to Year of the Ram: Transitional Souvenir Sheet – featuring the new year but also last year’s stamp which I did not purchase. And what do you know – The Year of the Snake to Year of the Horse: Transitional Souvenir Sheet is still available so I got one of those too although it is woefully brilliant red.

CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-and-Horse-souvenier-sheet CanadaPost-Year-of-the-snake-to-horse-souvenir sheet

Finally, because it’s 75% off! and limited edition and signed and framed, I couldn’t resist picking up a Year of the Ram (2003) framed print. It looks pretty tasteful. I might give it away afterall, an item or two in my order was added in order to make the minimum purchase for free shipping. ;)


Canada Post’s Chinese New Year items were released on January 8, 2015 and I so happened to had to make a post office run and saw the promo material and made my order on the auspicious ;) day.

Starbucks card image from Starbucks.com / commemorative stamps images from CanadaPost.ca

Year of the Sheep commemorative items shopping DONE (or so she thinks)

The Chinese Zodiac as a guide to when to procreate

horse-sheepI am slightly outraged and I can’t say why. But, I will try.

When I look around at people I know who have procreated, sometimes I can get cynical. I know, I should get their take but it’s too many people to ask and who knows if I would get the truth.

In China, there is a marked increase in births during years for auspicious zodiac signs. The Year of the Tiger last occurred 14 February 2010 to 2 February 2011. Amongst the people I know, two friends had their first child (A&S and T&Y). These couples had been married five years by then and met in university or before and the mothers were the awesome child-bearing age of 32-33.

Two years later, the most auspicious zodiac sign rolled around – the Year of the Dragon spanning 23 January 2012 to 9 February 2013. A&S and T&Y had their second child while two other couples (S&C and A&J) had their first and so did my cousins (W&S). The couples having their first child had by then been married about five years and the mothers were 33-34 years old. And it was the Year of the Dragon so all Chinese grandparents-to-be are over the moon. My cousin and his brother are a Tiger-Dragon sibling pair, one of three such pairs on that side of the family. Talk about family planning.

That means A&S and T&Y have the most coveted Tiger-Dragon sibling pair of them all. I’m not so surprised for A&S but a smidge for T&Y. But why not? I know that all of my friends and cousins are mature and responsible, bringing children into prepared and loving families. Some have been married a long time compared to my fledgling one-year.

Fast forward another two years and it was the Year of the Horse which spans from 31 January 2014 to 19 February 2015. I hadn’t really noticed the number of births this year and merely attributed it to couples wanting to have a second child two years later or not having a great deal of time to wait for couples who had “just” been married. S&C and A&J had their second child and F&E had their first. There will be two (or three) Year of the Horse babies amongst my cousins: W&S’s second, F&A’s first and my Hong Kong cousins V&V may have reproduced again this year. The first-time parents haven’t been married all that long, two years for F&E and just 15 months by the time F&A’s comes around but the first-time mother is the oldest yet at 35.*

I’ve always known about the glory of the Tiger and Dragon signs and that my own, Horse, is up there. They are powerful and they are swift and they are not food sources. Are my intelligent peers subject to this hocus pocus? I want to think I’m better than all of that but if “everyone’s doing it” and I do take such stock in “being Chinese” am I denying a child of mine something to be proud of?

There are multitudes of reasons  – none of which sound altruistic – that I did not want to reproduce this year, which happened to be Year of the Horse. I was married only in September 2013 and while the status of going from unmarried to married wasn’t earth-shattering and dramatically different, I also didn’t want to have a child within a year of that date. How cliché. The Year of the Horse is my year, and that is either a good year or a bad year and it turned out to be a good year that could not have been if I was on the way to getting fat and sick throughout. (But having a child during the year would have made it the best year yet, blah blah blah.) We didn’t have a home yet and while that is a weak excuse, I hardly wanted to immediately set up a nursery and have an impending addition to the family force our hand in where to live. The most reasonable excuse to not reproduce is that I haven’t felt for a second the biological urge to have a child. It’s the way I’m wired.

Throughout the year, my mother told me that it would be a-okay for me to have a Year of the Horse child and when summer rolled around and I would miss the cut-off, she told me to wait a year. Not that I was keeping her apprised of my (lack of) baby-making plans – it was simply that important for her to inform me of these dates.

Because, and no Internet source will back it up, my mother truly believes that a Year of the Sheep daughter will turn on her parents (or just her mother). Her own experiences make her terrified at the prospect. The difficulty and the heartbreak are not worth it and once summer rolled around, she advised me to wait a year. The zodiac prediction outweighed the risk of my eggs getting older and crappier.

In China, a spike in pregnancies last year was marked. In May, the Washington Post reported, “Chinese couples rush to get pregnant before dreaded Year of the Sheep”. While you can read horoscopes and interpret what you will, this description of Sheep characteristics is kind of dire: “Sheep are meek creatures, raised for nothing more than slaughter. Babies born in the Year of the Sheep, therefore, will grow up to be followers rather than leaders, according to some superstitions. The children are destined for heartbreak and failed marriages, and they will be unlucky in business, many Chinese believe. One popular folk saying holds that only one out of 10 people born in the Year of the Sheep finds happiness.”

In China, the increase in birth rates in during the best year (Dragon) can be measured, like 5%. It is offset a bit because “no one” wants to have a child that is born in the subsequent Year of the Snake. Still, then the Dragon child will grow up in a bigger cohort in schools throughout his/her life and encounter more competition. To a lesser extent, it could be true for Tiger and Horse babies but it’s not as remarkable to write articles about. In a city like Vancouver with a larger Chinese population than, say, Toronto, it would register as a most minor of blips.

Well, here is to Year of the Sheep children having less crowded pastures and tremendous room to grow. Good luck.

* I don’t have everyone’s birth year memorized but this is the sequence that I remember.

The Chinese Zodiac as a guide to when to procreate

Currently reading Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You

Celeste-Ng_Everything_I_Never_Told_YouI don’t really need to say it again but life has just ramped up again. I guess that is what happens when I’m grounded in the summer because travelling is expensive and it all bunches up in the fall. And most of my activities haven’t inspired me to blog here. But when I got halfway through Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, I knew I wanted to write about it.

Released in July this year, this novel was listed on reading lists of women’s interest magazines and such. I honestly didn’t really get into it for a while. At first, I couldn’t keep straight the names of the (three) siblings from the parents, also referred to by first name. I wasn’t sure I even cared about Lydia’s mysterious disappearance leading to her death. There was a fog that descended on the family and the reader, too, that one that would hang over a family finding their teenage child has suddenly died and it looks like a suicide (if so, why??) but what if it is not …

Initially, I didn’t have a great deal of connection with James and Marilyn’s (the parents) love story. They are a biracial couple who met and married in the 1960s and they seemed to come together for unsympathetic reasons, to escape their paths in addition to true love (or lust). Their ignorance of the reality of their relationship was naive.

The flashbacks finally came to the point where Marilyn left her young family without so much as a note in order to finish her undergraduate degree and proceed to medical, dreams she put on hold when she got pregnant and got married instead. My mother has a similar passion for obtaining education and feeling that it was all sidelined by having a family and her own fortune in life. Mum finished her degree while raising us, an unfathomably difficult challenge. Marilyn learned she was pregnant again and had to return to her husband, never got her degree and proceeded to channel all of her dreams into Lydia. I sat up at attention realizing how intense the mother-daughter relationship would be and its implication: Lydia couldn’t take it and must have killed herself.

It was obvious to the reader and the other siblings how unfair it was for Marilyn and James to shower their attention on Lydia. Marilyn nurtured Lydia’s aptitude for the sciences and loved her the more she succeeded in a spiraling positive feedback loop. An Asian man in 1970s Middle America, James always felt like an outsider and saw in his beautiful biracial daughter the possibility and (false) hope that Lydia could be the well-adjusted and popular like he never was. I found myself fully identifying with the pressure to fulfill my mother’s dreams channeled through me, and being an outcast as Lydia was. And what can Lydia do? She is a minor. All she can do is bow her head and do what is deemed to be good for her.

What ensued was sibling rivalry between Lydia and Nath, her older brother. They needed each other as no one else could understand them the same way but strain and misunderstanding enters their relationship when Nath is accepted to Harvard and will leave Lydia at home and she can’t fathom it.

The youngest sibling, Hannah, was conceived sort of by accident and the reason Marilyn gave up her second attempt at university. She was a very interesting character. In a fit of obsession over Lydia, Marilyn forgot about her youngest child, and this shapes Hannah’s personality which develops in Lydia’s shadow. As a result, Hannah seems to lurk and merely observes everything. She might have the key to everyone’s problems by being overlooked and having observed it all.

Then there’ the neighbour Jack that Lydia started hanging out with and who has a reputation to bed every girl and leave a trail of broken hearts. A child of a single parent and not exactly properly raised, he is a perennial outsider who can understand Lydia’s feelings of being excluded. Jack and Nath have long been enemies over the most frustrating incidents that you can see come from misunderstandings and boy-come-man pride. Does Jack know what happened to Lydia and does he have the key to help the family heal?

Currently reading Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You