I have a hot take–that the world talks too much about romance and frivolous relationships and too little about identity and family. There was a period of time when I would neglect my dad and mom and think about romance too, such as that first crush of mine who turned out to be gay and got into MIT. That’s a different story.

But no matter how much I superficially cried for my ephemeral heartbreaks, this one was on a whole new level. Insurmountable. 

I remember that night when I stumbled in the living room and found my dad on the phone. He was talking with someone ardently, almost like he’d drunk too much, yet he hated drinking.

“And that’s why we should all move to the U.S.,” he remarked in a way that almost seemed comical, “but you’re in the system, so it’s hard. Speaking of my daughter, she is very successful. She’s the chief editor of some newspaper, oh and she got into Yale. Do you know what Yale is? It’s one of the best universities in the U.S. Her roommate’s dream school is Yale, but she did not get in. I know, right.”

My father’s tone and contentment surprised me, as I often recognized him as a person who rarely exposed himself. There were three lies here: I was barely accepted into the school newspaper, only a writer, and secondly, obviously, I was not in Yale. Also, my roommate got into Princeton; she was not interested in Yale.

“OK, let’s stop talking about that.” My mom interrupted as soon as my dad hung up his phone, “Anxin is great wherever she is. Besides, even if she gets into Yale it doesn’t guarantee that she can be successful. Or Harvard. Or Columbia. Remember? These schools are full of social geniuses. We’re over it.”

“Yeah, of course. I don’t even like Yale, I’m just saying if—” he attempted to explain himself as I stared almost pathetically at the teddy bears placed on the living room table next to the sofa, it was practically an altar of stuffed animals, a representation of my actual childishness and incompetence, that I spent time playing with stuffed animals instead of getting into Yale like my father’s wish. 

“No explanations.” My mom demanded as my dad succumbed, nodded his head and stuffed a piece of sesame candy into his mouth as an active way to shut himself up. I stood there in the corner as neither of them seemed to have realized my presence. I just quietly left and returned back into my room.

Indeed. These memories make me uncomfortable, but if I dig into these feelings, if I think my father has high standards of me, is it possible that I am also judging him too harshly?

Returning to reality, I took another bite of my apple. Starting from last week, I started eating an apple a day, praying for good luck. It’s been a week since I’ve started.

I hope all is well. I hope my dad is Ping An just like Ping Guo.

A scene came to mind of our family traveling together to Japan for Christmas. I always complained that I did not have friends who would go with me and I had to always travel with family. I never thought the idea of family would become so appealing to me.

The same old charm, the same old rhyme. A habit that I’ve learned to develop and believe in order to secure myself. I would take a bite of the apple while my mother placed apples on the little shrine for Guanyin (a Bodhisattva in Buddhism, a representation of mercy) and lit up the incense sticks. Holding the incense in her hands, she bowed a few times and murmured the prayers for being safe and self.

Guanyin, please bless and protect my family. Protect Anxin, Anyi and Chengdan.

Somehow the sweetness in the apple calmed me down along with the smell of burning incense. Somehow I find comfort in the crunch, the red and yellow stripes on the peel. Somehow the slightly bitter peel feels like a facade, the glamorous facade to an actual juicy and plainly sweet apple. Just like my facade of pretending to have the best holiday I’ve ever had when my dad is practically freezing to death in one of the coldest places in the country.

But you have to do what you have to do.

And I’ve had fun too.

Perhaps I judge him too harshly too.

“Anxin,” my mother interrupted me from my racing thoughts, ideas circulating in my mind halted to a stop as Yo-yo-ayi revealed a smile as she popped out from the room.

“It’s a Saturday, let’s go shopping!”

On the car ride to the mall, I thought about the places I’ve judged my father too harshly.

“When is your company going to go public? My classmate’s dad’s company already went public and I heard Tencent is investing in them already.”


“I went with Yyvonne to Boston over Thanksgiving break and stayed with her friend’s mom who bought a three-story high mansion in Newton Central with a parking lot and the most adorable white cat I’ve ever seen. And yet we live in this pathetic little apartment.”


“Even though these social media influencers are making money, COVID is no excuse that we are not making money. I don’t care what you say, I believe in what I see, which is that people are making money but they are not us.”

And my father would always say,

“Yes, I am useless. Sure, if only you had been born into a better family, with better parents. Maybe you will in your next life, is that what you want?” He would sit there fixated upon some other furniture, fixated at a blank present and perhaps even blanker past and future. His mind would play over the words I said and my frustrated expression was like a movie with my harsh words as the rolling captions. This was a movie that I had seen before, that my parents had seen before, that everyone in my family or in this world has seen before.

I shivered at my almost venomous thoughts, my ego, my vanity built upon my parents’ financial abilities crumbling along with my parents’ financial pressure.

In the meantime, of course, I strolled through the mall with Yo-Yo a’yi as she marveled over the discounted section in H&M. The overhead lights seemed to congregate and together thrust light into my eyes and blind my sight, so I looked down at the floor instead, but the floor seemed to be spinning and I decided to stop thinking all together.

Why do I not think about my family more often? As if there is some taboo that requires us to be able to learn and grow from different romantic relationships but there is no tolerance for family. If you’re born into a good family, lucky you, if you are not, then unlucky you and hopefully you can find that star crossed lover and form a better nuclear family and have kids. But what about our original family?

What about our original family?

I have not thought of this question often until now. In a way, I thought I had embraced my father in a parallel world and told him that I loved him and cared about him and that, if given another chance, I would value this family more than anyone I have ever seen. I needed to grow up and change and he needed to grow up and change for the better for the entire family.

But am I being gaslighted? Am I too willing to reconcile when he has problems too? Does this mean I can forgive all the things he did?

Like forcing us to run ceaselessly on cross-country trails on the hill next to our house every weekend, and when we do not obey he calls us useless? 

Or “Anxin, you are always on your phone, always. What are you even looking at? You’re a failure if you keep watching this nonsensical useless crap. Who do you think you would ever be? We want you to be successful but all you look like is useless makeup and useless YouTubers. Why can’t you do something useful? Like learning a new language, or getting an internship.” He would rant on ceaselessly and I would roll my eyes and release a sigh.

“Dad, I’m only a student. I know four languages. Also, I’m a first year, there are no internships.” I would yell back. This is partially an excuse and partially a truth.

“You’re a dabbler in skills. You should also learn Cantonese, useful when we go to Hong Kong, or Japanese, since we always travel to Japan.”

“Well, I do hope I can blink my eyes and master two more languages. Plus, I do work hard. You just don’t see it.”

“I don’t see when you’re working hard, yeah right. Whenever you come back to Jinhai, you just stick around with your mom too much, or find people to dine out with.”

My friend from Macau who dined with me a few days ago would say,

Your father is too mean. Who always criticizes their daughters? He’s like my mom. She always has new things to yell at me for. That I am not as good as my brother, though I am.

Asian parents. We would grin bitterly together.

But I did not know if I would be able to see him again. This changes the dynamics.

“Do you want tang-hulu?” Yo-yo a’yi pointed at a variety of sugar-coated fruits on bamboo skewers from the shelf. I looked over the plump, ripe and red strawberries, classic sour and saliva-inducing hawthorn, delicate and tasty-looking blueberries, and in the end decided upon the plain, good old apple.

“I’ll get the apple.” I said, pointing at sliced apples tang-hulu sitting alone on the side of the shelf, clearly unwanted and untouched. Yo-yo a’yi seemed bummed.

“Huh, apples are not exactly the tastiest fruits. Are you sure? These hawthorns look nice too.” She questioned as she took out her QR code for purchasing.

“Yeah.” I nodded quietly. She revealed a small curve on her lips.

“You have been eating a lot of apples recently. They say apples are the most boring fruits out of all of the fruits.”

“Indeed, haha, weird.” The woman handed me the tang-hulu and I took a large bite at the crunchy, ice-glazed tang-hulu. Sweetness filled my senses and cured all the anxiety I’ve had from overthinking. Apples were simply the best fruits for a broken me needing hope and love.

Parents are being parents for the first time in their lives too. They are not perfect.

We walked past Chanel and Yo-yo a’yi stopped at the sight of new products. A moisturizing rose-hued lipstick shined brightly under the golden lights and caught her sight.

“This is lovely.” She said as she picked up the lipstick and tried it on her arms. She looked closely at the swatches on her arms and pointed at them, admiring their nuanced hues made perfectly for dark-skinned Asian individuals like us.

“This color suits you well.” The sales assistant recommended loudly, “it makes your skin look lighter and more brightened up.” Yo-yo a’yi looked at me and grinned widely.

“I think it’s a nice color too.” I added as I also tried a couple colors for myself as well. The beige-pink color seemed to attract my attention and a part of me wanted it badly, while a part of me shook it off.

“We should get one each.” She tapped my arms. I hesitated at the price. She grabbed my arms, “as a treat for our hard work…and mental energy.” I smiled at the word usage.

“That also makes sense.”

I was very mixed up with complicated feelings of wanting to forgive my father but also not forgiving him. But aren’t human emotions all complicated? Trust your instincts. 

“I also have some good news.” She whispered as we walked towards the cashier desk together, “your dad has some good news.” My head jerked up when she mentioned my father, a topic we so seldom talk about ever since the “thing” happened.

Indeed, it had been a rough vacation for me, but it was going to be over at some point, right? 

I did not have to forgive him fully, but I could miss him and hope for the best for him. We could reconcile and talk and maybe apologize later.

“The lawyers and the police have been debating over the case for weeks now, but they were not able to find any evidence that your dad is guilty, and after consideration, the police station over in the north has agreed to let your dad return back to Jinhai. The date is undecided, but sometime soon. Wait! Before you celebrate, the case has not been resolved yet, but at least they will let him out first.”

I did not need to express my excitement at this point, my words have been speaking for themselves thus far.

I just remembered hugging Yo-yo a’yi really tightly and screaming in the middle of the most popular mall in Jinhai, the golden lights from make-up tables in Chanel shined over me as if someone poured golden confetti over the two of us, the winners of this battle with opponents and situations that I did not even fully understand. Many people who walked past stared for a second or two, but I did not care.

 It was the pinnacle of my emotional ride: my roller coaster that rode on waves, plunged deep before soaring high, then twisted and turned until I was almost nauseous and dizzy. Just as I braced for another exhilarating twist, to go for one more big turn that would turn my insides upside down, I suddenly realized that I’ve reached the end of the ride.

           Two nights after the mall trip, Yo-yo a’yi and my mom stayed at the office until 10 p.m. I waited alongside my phone for the news as the tension became palpable. I would poke at my phone now and then to see if there was anything.

           Anything? No.

           Now? Still no.

           How about now? Still silent.

           Until finally…

           “He’s coming back on the earliest flight tomorrow morning!”

Yo-yo a’yi’s ecstatic voice burst through the phone, shattering the silence and perhaps my phone screen. My mother burst into tears and all I could hear in the background were crying and cheering. Though they are usually direct opposites of each other, in this case they melted into a symphony of relief and joy as the most melodic song I’ve ever heard.

As the classic Li Bai poem goes, “My little boat has passed ten thousand of mountains.” Indeed. The phrase means that looking back, things have passed their hardest times.

On the next day in the early afternoon, my sister and I stood in front of the door. She yawned as I nervously tucked the collar of my shirt.

“Dad is finally back from his business trip.” My sister said calmly, “But why are we all standing here waiting for him>”

“Well, do you not miss your dad, since he was away so long?” My grandma said with her usual smile.

“Well I guess I can play games happier without him.” She said, then dissolving back into thought, daydreams of her video games. I smiled uneasily.

My dad’s name is Chengdan, which means to be responsible. That’s what my grandmother said. She wanted him to be able to support their family single-handedly. And he did, along with my mother of course.

My name is Anxin because my father wanted me to live without burden.

But how can I live in an “anxin” (at ease) manner when he is gone? In a way, through adjusting myself, I “chengdan” (took responsibility) of the situation in a way and alleviated my father’s burden. A family should take the burden and responsibility together. 

I hardly recognized him at first. Once robust and strong, he was a mere shadow of his past self. He had lost a staggering 40 pounds, his clothes hanging loosely from his frame. But his eyes, filled with a mixture of relief and exhaustion through the glass lens, were unmistakably his.

I did not know how to react at first. I stood there, frozen.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Go hug your father.” My mother said, I walked forward and then leaped and engulfed him in a tight embrace.

“Anxin.” He said.

“Dad.” I replied.

“Well look! How happy the family looks.” Yo-yo a’yi interrupted.

We have navigated through the roughest seas, emerging on the other side with a newfound sense of hope and triumph for our identities and, most importantly, a sense of family and belonging.

Visual Credit: Dora Gao (Staff Writer)

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