Doubling the number of bridesmaids to 8 due to Chinese superstitions about the Voldemort of numbers? It’s a pain in the ass, but fine, I’ll respect your superstition.
Ignoring the fact that I hate seafood and making sure every dish at the Chinese Wedding Banquet was marine? Well, each dish had some cultural significance and my in-laws paid for it. I fed my portions to my new husband and said nothing.
But it wasn’t easy visiting them. We ate where Sunny and Jay wanted to eat. Andy chauffeured them wherever they wanted to go. Sunny had a fit if we came in after 10 PM. When Andy and I did escape out to a nice restaurant on our own, Sunny spent the next day ridiculing my carefully researched choice of cuisine. Never mind La Mer’s stars and diamonds.
When Andy’s sister, her husband, and her daughter arrived in Hawaii, I did a happy dance. We wouldn’t all fit in the house. Andy and I escaped to a hotel. Not that it was a complete escape. We stayed in the hotel where Sunny worked. She not only called several times a day, she sent other hotel staff to check on us. It was irritating, but I could live with it. Especially since the hotel staff sometimes brought food. (Also they knocked on the door before entering. I’d forgotten that people did that.)
We spent a glorious day alone before meeting up with the rest of Andy’s family before dinner.
As we drove to Sunny and Jay’s, I expressed sympathy for Andy’s brother-in-law. Brother-in-law was from Eastern Europe (we will call him “EBIL”), which made him even whiter than me. EBIL was also a doctor. “I wonder what kind of treatment poor EBIL gets from your parents? Do they scoff at his anti-inflammatories and shove their Wood Lock liniment at him?”
Andy protested, “Hey, that Wood Lock is good stuff!”
“You put on latex gloves to apply it. It was once recalled by the US government. One of the active ingredients is used to make bodies transparent for scientific research. It’s questionable, at the very least. But that’s not the point. The point is, how mean are your parents to EBIL?”
Andy shrugged. “They must get along fine. His parents are coming to visit over Christmas.”
I snorted. “That means nothing. A free place to stay in Hawaii versus winter in Eastern Europe? Please.”
Because EBIL was often on call, I had only seen him with Andy’s parents once. I hoped for a white ally. One that could exchange “the struggle is real” looks with me over the restaurant table when Sunny plied our plates with fish eyeballs and chicken feet. Maybe we could salute each other with the inevitable forks when the staff at dim sum refused us chopsticks.
Andy’s Oldest Niece met us at the door of Sunny and Jay’s house. She was three, she was adorable, and she damned well knew it. After she hugged me, she waved a stuffed bird and said, “Flamingo is going to jail. Come.”
Oldest Niece dragged me off to see the stuffed animal prison she’d built. We settled into a game. I staged bumbling jailbreaks for Flamingo while catching snatches of conversation from the rest of the family.
Sunny: “EBIL, no, no, what are you doing?”
EBIL: “I’m getting over a cold, and just a little dehydrated—”
Sunny: “Ai-yah! Not regular water. Not when I bought this special for you!”
I grinned, waiting for Sunny to insist on foo cha or another foul Chinese herbal tea. Instead…
EBIL: “Perrier! Thank you, Sunny!”
Sunny: “I know how much you like your Perrier. So I get a big case at Costco.”
I sat there, jaw open, until Oldest Niece threw Flamingo at me.
“Hey! Your turn!”
I put Flamingo back in the pillow penitentiary and scooped up a stuffed horse. “Flamingo is lonely. I think he needs a cellmate. Look! It’s Prison Pony!”
Oldest Niece yanked Pony out of my hands. She threw him into the wall. “No! Flamingo was bad. He stays alone.”
Flamingo’s next effort was an escape tunnel under the pillows. He hit a water main and nearly drowned. Oldest Niece thought this was hilarious. Over her giggles, EBIL and Sunny’s conversation continued.
Sunny: “Did you see the deck?”
EBIL: “You built a deck?”
Sunny: ‘”Of course. It’s on the hill in the backyard. So your parents can sit there and see the ocean from the house when they come. Jay just has to paint it, come see…”
In shock, I’d again let the game lapse.
Oldest Niece yanked me back to reality. “Hey! Flamingo wants to escape again!”
I put Flamingo back in prison and arranged him in a slumped, dejected position. “Maybe Flamingo has given up trying to escape. Maybe he knows it’s hopeless.”
Oldest Niece glared at me. “You’re no fun anymore.” She ran out of the room. “Unnnclee Annndyyyy! Be my horsey!”
She found Andy. I found the Perrier. And I drank a bottle. Because I like Perrier, too. Not that anyone asked me.
We went to a different Chinese restaurant that night. A nicer, fancier restaurant. Fancy restaurant was also further away, and there was traffic.
By the time we arrived, Oldest Niece was a mess. She squirmed in her chair, put her head on the table, whined she was hungry, got reprimanded, and cried. Which made sense. She’d flown in that day from Chicago. It was midnight her time. The kitchen was slow. When I asked EBIL if he had any snacks, he looked at me like I was crazy.
I dug into my purse, and presented Oldest Niece with a butterscotch and a some samples from See’s Candies. Oldest Niece gobbled them up. Her mom thanked me. The food eventually arrived.
EBIL beamed. “Walnut shrimp! My favorite!” Everyone heaped shrimp on their plates, starting with Oldest Niece. More seafood followed. The hangry crisis was averted.
I ate a walnut and wished I’d hoarded my See’s samples.
I held my tongue until Andy and I were back in our hotel room. And then I went off:
“The only time your parents asked me what I liked, it was so your father could order every seafood dish I hated! But EBIL? Your mother buys him WATER. Special European water. And not one word about how crazy or expensive it is to buy water when there’s a tap in the kitchen!”
“Your mother mocks the Michelin-rated restaurant I pick, but they’ll drive halfway around the island so EBIL can have his fancy walnut shrimp at a Chinese restaurant with a kitchen so slow you’d think the food came all the way from HONG KONG?!”
“Your parents can’t leave onions out of a single dish for me, but they will build an entire DECK for their son-in-law and his family!”
Andy says I said way more than this, but that the rest was impossible to decipher due to the obscenities and frothing at the mouth.
I am certain he exaggerates.
I ended in tears, hating myself as I wailed, “It must be ME. Your parents just don’t like ME. Because they like the other white person just fine!”
Andy mused, “Maybe they’re just grateful that someone married my sister.”
Befuddlement ended my tears. “What are you talking about? Your sister is beautiful. She’s a doctor. Guys would be lucky to marry her. Hell, EBIL’s lucky to have married her. His head is shaped like a light bulb. Why on earth would your parents be–”
And the penny FINALLY dropped.
Andy’s parents hadn’t fussed over his sister. No one had gotten her favorite food or drink.
On the other hand, I had witnessed Sunny overloading ANDY with his favorite pork, chocolates, and beer.
Andy, unaware of the metaphorical, misogynistic penny spinning on the waxed, wooden hotel floor, answered my rhetorical question. “Well, my sister’s really moody—”
I interrupted. “I would be, too! Because it’s all about the boys in the Wong household, isn’t it?”
Andy eyed me warily. “You’re going to go all foamy again, aren’t you?”
I didn’t. Because, once again, how my in-laws treated me wasn’t personal. It was bullshit, of course, this fawning over males. Probably it was cultural. But not personal.
And while EBIL wouldn’t stand with me against the old guard, perhaps I might find another ally.
A woman ally.