"A chef, a sifu, and a writer walk into a bar..."

Sounds like the start of a joke, right? In actuality, this scenario could happen in my world... or more precisely, in my family.

The sifu, or teacher, is my cousin Michael, the youngest certified Wing Chun Do Gung-Fu blackbelt and master instructor who runs his own self defense club in Seattle. He's been in magazines and won awards too numerous for me to mention here, so check out his profile at http://www.i-selfdefense.com/ (his club's site - look under Instructors).
I can probably count on my fingers the number of times we've seen each other in person, but thanks to email, we've managed to bring the American northwest and Canadian prairies closer together and forged a bond I hold very dear.

The up-and-coming chef is our cousin Zandra, who promises to fatten me up with her tasty creations on my next visit to BC. Despite the 14 year age gap, she and I have a lot in common, among them, a warped sense of humour, the tendency to be a little accident-prone, and to this day, the ability to annoy our parents by doing the exact opposite of what's expected of us. More like a sister... or maybe partner-in-crime...

And yes, I'm the writer. Really.

Now, having a writer, a martial arts sifu, and chef in one family may not be all that unusual... unless you consider how incredibly Filipino-Catholic our family is. [Okay, insert broad-generalization disclaimer here... yes, there are exceptions to this "rule".]

"So, what's so special about being Filipino-Catholic?" you say.

Well, it carries a ton of meaning.  The "Catholic" bit alludes to the rule to obey our parents no matter how weird, illogical, or cockamaimey the suggestion.

The "Filipino" bit implies the unspoken expectation to choose from a very limited subset of acceptable careers. (Probably also true in other cultures, but I'm Filipino and this is my story.) If you weren't a doctor, nurse, engineer, accountant, dentist, or manager, your parents lost bragging rights in their tight-knit little hive. And it's your job as their child to protect these rights by conforming.  Oh, but when you don't conform, you've squandering the opportunity they've worked so hard to give you. Bad, bad anak!!! No deboo for you!

In all honesty, I can't completely fault our parents their lack of imagination narrowed focus. As immigrants in this golden land of "white people who talk so fast", those careers - icons of financial security, stability and social status unachievable back on the islands - were suddenly within arms reach.

To them, coming to Canada and the US meant giving their children the opportunity to pursue the dreams they themselves couldn't.

However, what they seem to miss is that we, the children, have taken their dreams one step further.  We've seen this as an opportunity to pursue not only those careers, but many others, to find our own way of making a contribution with our own talents and passions, not limited by any predefined guidelines.

Essentially, we've taken the ball and are running with it.

But, we are generally good kids, so many of us didn't walk the road less traveled at first.
Zandra tortured herself with a year of nursing school before following her dream and enrolling in culinary college.
And I myself was a miserable engineer for almost a decade, waking up each morning preferring to rip my arms off, blend them in a blender, then slather my whole body with the bits rather than go to work, before turning to the creative arts.

However, we have many cousins who chose their careers based on pleasing their parents first before pleasing their own souls, and they're still in that space. I hope they don't make themselves miserable.

Meanwhile, I'll be at the bar enjoying my non-alcoholic beverage sitting with the half-drunk chef with the long thick island-girl hair and the smiley, serene sifu built like a MACK truck. And there's always room at our table for more...


  1. Hi Nennette
    Your writing is so superb. Hey! I love that widget that shows who is tuning in!!!! You can see my mind whirling and wanting to get it, right? I think it's so way fun. For example, as I'm reading it says "Palo Alto tuning in as CRONyogitect" meaning it recognized me. Wow. Bzzzz. Mind whirling. Tomorrow I may look into that. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Arturo! Can you sense me blushing from your compliment? :)
    That's a really cool widget, isn't it? I found it on a blog in Australia. Definitely add it to your own. It's fun seeing who comes to visit.


  3. Ate Can!!! I love it! It was perfect!! I cannot believe you actually wrote it! OH NO! What if pinsans read it? Wait a minute, they should! It was so beautifully written and so eloquently versed! (ME:You like that?) (YOU: Yah, yah...I liked that!) **don't be confused**

    Can you tell that I'm beaming with pride? I am SO PROUD!

    BUT, besides being talented, you forgot to mention "feverishly good looking...without having to make an effort". So hot!

    I loved it! I love you!!! Hi to the fam!


  4. I've wanted to comment so many times, but I just never got around to it. I just wanted to say that that was so well-written. It is something that I can really identify with, as there is the same pressure to conform within the chinese community as well. In addition to parental pressure, there is the self-inflicted pressure not to let them down. Ah... guilt. And to think, there is no religion to muddy the waters.

  5. * Zan:

    I think our family would disown me if they ever read this post!

    * Su Li:

    I'm glad you liked the post! Yes, it's definitely something that crosses cultural boundaries. At least we're aware of it enough not to inflict our own offspring with it. :)

  6. hey ate! good one here! bravo! yah, i definitely went against the occupational norm head on since day one. no medical, science or military careers (no put-down on my bro who's serving out there!) for me but went into retail ("what?! how come retail?? you know how hard that it - it's only good when sales are good. it's so hard when sales are bad.") my mom to this day is still pushing for me to go back to school for nursing.

    but u know i got other idea that involve an empty room and a lot of ideas!

    love ya ate! u rock! ALWAYS!!

  7. Hi Cyn,

    I'm so happy you liked the post! I agree that, although we don't put down the people who DO choose to go down the military, science and/or medical road (where would we be without them?!), we won't necessarily follow that road... and that's OK! :)

    Can't wait to see how your future unfolds with that "empty room and a lot of ideas" venture! ;)

    Lots of love back!

  8. i know you posted this two years ago...but zandra--the up and coming chef--showed me this...and i think we need to make a new one...adding a nurse and an artist

  9. @mark.banaag -
    Sounds good to me! Lots of room at the table :)