As I’ve alluded to previously, my dad can squeeze a quarter so tightly that he kills the eagle. He used to castigate my sisters and me for leaving our lamps plugged in during the day, since appliances draw power even when not in use ($$$! Or really, fractions of ¢ ¢ ¢, but we didn’t dare challenge the man on one of his niggardly hot streaks). As kids, we ate dented cans of food bought from grocery store manager’s specials and drank terrible powdered milk (one brand, I remember from the box, promised the romantic-sounding “kiss of cream.” Lies. Should have been “makeout of off-putting dairy solids.”)
But as a first-generation ABC (American-born Chinese), he felt a strong emotional connection to Hawaii. It’s hard to imagine in this this post-Obama era in which, by law, every human is either a hapa, or dating one, or the future parent of one. But many decades ago, my dad really identified with the all-inclusive, Pacific melting pot vibe.
So to defray the cost of his Haw-anderlust, Papa Pu, who’s a doctor, worked out an exceptional locum tenens arrangement whereby he’d fly into Hawaii for a few weeks, months, days — on demand to fill in for other doctors. (They were presumably taking a sick day or vacation — something my dad never did before starting locum tenens, which naturally depleted the stockpile of paid time off he lovingly horded.) I’m sure there was some elaborate calculation of costs for a long-term babysitter vs. economies of scale of adding his three daughters to the trip. And with the money he saved nauseating the family with Kiss of Cream, my dad felt comfortable bringing us all along for the ride. So we stepped off lo those many inter-island “Buddy Holly memorial prop plane” flights looking camera-ready, thanks to our usage of pre-FDA approval Botox … aka, botulism via manager’s special dented soup can.
Years on, there are vestiges of the jaunts: Yee knows all the tropical fruits; Quin took a summer-long hula class and still remembers the Oli Lei; I go on the odd rant about how you’re supposed to tuck flowers behind your ear on the left side only if you’re married (floral ear tuck sloppiness is my bête noire).
But in general, our Hawaiian anecdotes come out judiciously and infrequently. You wouldn’t be wrong to imagine they were all packed into one watershed blip, like Quinny’s action-packed 5th year.
It seems foolhardy to add a random tropical overlay to my “Southern half-Chinese Yalie writer in L.A.” identity. It’s important to isolate your specific brand in this ADHD-afflicted hashtag culture. When I introduce myself to people and demand to know who they think should play me in the blockbuster biopic of my life, I can’t have them vacillating.
It’s different in memories. Much like James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Kanye West, I have a tendency to romanticize my backstory. Mentally, I make a towering monument of the picayune blips in my circumstance. Don’t we all? Trifles make the sum of life.