As a child, I used to lie awake at night wondering when the world would end. It was partly influenced by a superstitious mother who had once placed protective crystals in athletic socks under the Twu childrens’ pillows. As we neared adolescence, they would be replaced with brown New International Version (NIV) Bibles from the Chinese Evangelical Church my relatives attended after a Korean service whose congregation rented the building space, too.
In my bed, I would think about how the world would end, and if it would be anything like the show, “Sightings” had predicted. This documentary-styled series based on real accounts of paranormal activity was bolstered by the popularity of “The X-Files,” and predicted the world would end in 2007.
In the 3rd grade, I had already somewhat accepted that I would not live to see adulthood. Therefore, I had to make the most of my life as an adolescent. This meant I needed to dye my hair, socialize with the bad influences of my parents’ nightmares, make mix tapes with the B-side Nirvana and Hole albums while I was grounded for hanging out with aforementioned bad influences, and wear necklaces with alien-face pendants from Claire’s.
Under the veneer of contemporary suburban life and its fleeting, superficial comforts, the multiracial boom and wave of new immigrants were changing the face of South King County, and the young, confused adolescents around me would soon become stars, mixed-race Asian Pacific Americans like Olympian speed skater Apolo Ohno from fourth-period study hall, and Benson “Smooth” Henderson, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) Lightweight Champion, whom I still remember as young, quiet and bespectacled.
I was a spectator to the sport of fighting racism with a Westernized vocabulary and colorblind perspective of the ‘90s. My older brother’s hair grew into a mop of long, shoulder-length bristles as he began to roll up to school in an ice-blue Plymouth Voyager with a “Love Sees No Color” shirt, printed in celebratory, Rastafarian-inspired font. He would strum his guitar and sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” to a chorus of screaming white girls on stage at the mall in Federal Way. Yet his angular face refused to smile in high school pictures, and I would hear increasingly the word “racist” to describe school and work in my home.
In a few years, I would see my cousin holding signs on the evening news. My brother jokingly called my most aggressive cousin a “Yellow Panther.” When Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” a movie my brother took me to in grade school, came out, I started to really think about my people, the Old World, the “Rape of Nanking” — but I could only barely scrape the surface. In all of this, all I felt was heartbreak and the love of ancestors and a time that we could not reclaim for ourselves, we could only bear witness and be vessels of our ancestors’ pasts.
My current fixation with the HBO series “Game of Thrones” hearkens to a time in my life when incense was burnt and crystals offered protection under my pillow, much like ancestors of the Northerners in “Game of Thrones,” who honored their ancestors by worshipping the old gods of their forbearers — the weeping red heart trees growing only in Northern terrain.
It is comforting to know that some semblance of the old still lives on in my mother’s home, and that when I know the Twu family home is empty in Federal Way, I can rest assured that my grandparents’ photos are still high above all other objects in the house, facing me, and that I can spend some quality time with my grandparents alone in silence.
For the the first time in my life, I tried praying to my grandfather.
All I could say was, “I miss you, Grandpa.”