Picture of Charlie
Complete Interview With Charlie Chin

P.C. - Basically tell us about yourself, your background, where you were raised. Your career so far. Just basic background material.

All right. I was born in New York City. Spent most of my life as a musician, performer, writer. Moved out here about seven years ago. Since I've been out here I've been doing performances, plays, writing articles. Just as I was coming out here, I approached Children's Book Press of Emeryville, now San Francisco really. They moved out to San Francisco. I was interested in getting published as a writer. Somebody told me the two easiest books to get published are children's books and cookbooks. So I worked on that mostly because at that time, around eight years ago, several people had mentioned to me that they were looking for more books for Asian American youth. Younger, you know. So that added another element to it to. So surely I could put something together.

Currently I'm working at home as a writer, performing with a revival of "Grain of Sand" with Nobuko Miyamoto, myself, and a fellow by the name of Chris Iijima, singing stuff we did twenty five years ago, getting invitations from various groups to get together, which is a little difficult 'cause Chris lives in Massachusetts. Noboko lives in Los Angeles and I also heard Chris is thinking about moving to Hawaii, so we'll see.

I work for the California Council for the Humanities in their Chautauqua Program, "History Alive!" program portraying Dr. Yee Fung Cheung, who was a Chinese herbalist who arrived in California in 1850. I do storytelling, for children and adults. I visited the Northern California 13th Annual Storytelling Festival couple weeks ago. Still writing plays, performing. I did a one man piece called, "Eat In/Takeout at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last Saturday. I direct the San Mateo Buddhist Temple Taiko. It's a local play group right in the San Mateo Buddhist Temple. I am the director, founder, general manager, and equipment manager for the Jataka Public Theater. Public theater that features teaching stories based on the Buddha, 2500 years ago.

What else? Nothing... None of this stuff makes money by the way. I'll point that out right away. Freelance articles for various magazines, Asian American and mainstream. Last season I've been doing a number of performances, musical performances centered on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.

L.C. - Could you tell us a little more about it? The Transcontinental Railroad?

Transcontinental Railroad? There's currently a kind of fascination with the building of the railroad. It ties into this whole thing about the Gold Rush, the Old West.. dahdahdah.. Just like you know there's a whole group whose totally into the Civil War, there's a whole group of people who are like totally into the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.

P.C. - There's not too many re-enactors of that huh?

Well, actually we're offering a Chinese perspective on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. What they don't have usually. Lot of Irish guys but you know...

P.C. - They excluded the Chinese out of the pictures.

That's part of my patter, I say, that...May. What is it? May 10th? May 10, 1869. One of the great mysteries of Asian American history. Cause on that day apparently 12,000 Chinese men disappeared overnight. Nobody was able find them when it came time to take the picture. They returned the next day we know because they went out to work on other railroads, but for twenty four hours they were totally missing, nobody could find them.

L.C. - What inspired this show?

What happened is that this guy in San Jose named Dave Borough put together this show. It's a musical collection that includes an Irish band, the Black Irish, and a Mexican American band called Los Compadres. This guy, Dave Borough and his friend, run a radio station called Radio Rail out of San Jose. So you have the whole pack there, Irish there, Mexicans, Filipino-Americans. We'll be playing again in San Jose on July 19th, which coincides with the re-release of the "Grain of Sand" album by Bindu Records and Tapes. They'll be re-releasing the album by Nobuko Miyamoto, Chris Iijima, and myself did in 1973. Now available on CD! Yeah, they got the master from the Smithsonian. Grain of Sand. The story goes Asians represent such a small percentage of the population here. We're like a grain of sand, but a grain of sand gets inside the oyster. The oyster tries to cover it up, cover it up, cover it up, and what it produces is a pearl so, we're a grain of sand.

P.C. - How did you get interested in the story of Mulan?

OK. When I was a kid about ten or eleven years old. I was walking down the street in Chinatown in New York City with my father. I was looking in the window of you know the curio shops and I saw a little statue of what looked like a guy in a big floppy hat standing next to a horse. So I asked my father, "Who's that?" He said, "Oh, in Cantonese the name is Fa Muk Lan" Right? So, I didn't know that. Said that's a woman - it's not a guy. So I said really how come it's a woman? Well, so he explained to me this story that this girl, her father was called up for war by the emperor, but he was too old to go. He had no sons. In those days a man who had a family had to show up. So, the daughter to save her father from certain death, you know, he's too old to go, disguised herself as a boy and went instead. She was so good she became a general, he tells me, then he added that this is an example of what children should do for their parents. Filial piety, that's because she loved and respected her father that she did this totally unnatural thing in order to save him.

L.C. - The issue of her father is unclear from the poem.

All of this comes from a classical poem. There are histories, legends about this Fa Muk Lan, and there was a poem written I think Song Dynasty, maybe Tang Dynasty. So years later... I mean the whole issue of her father is that he apparently was a bigger issue in the beginning. But the character of Mulan ran away with the story. People were much more interested in Mulan than than they are in her father, her father is just a premise. Why would she go into war? She has to have a reason to go to war. The premise is because her father can't go to war so she has to go instead of her father.

Now the way I originally got the story was that she was supposed to be an example of real, traditional, feudalistic filial piety. And in the original story she comes back home after being successful. The emperor wants to reward his hero and she says, "No, no, that's all right. I did my duty, now I want to go home. Give me a camel and I'll see you." So her comrades, her subordinates basically said, "We'll see you home. Go on, we'll take you home." She goes home, she changes clothes, she comes back out and everybody's shocked. Aaaaahhhhhahhhhahhh! And that's the end of the story.

So years go by. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. All of a sudden the 1970's, the 80's, Mulan is revived as a character, first by Maxine King... huh Maxine Hong Kingston, who uses the title "Woman Warrior" in her book. Then John Hwang... David Henry Whang rather writes a play called "F.O.B." where as part of the dream sequence, the theater part of it. The girl in the cast becomes Fa Muk Lan. But again, I notice with great interest that Fa Muk Lan, shows up again. But now I see as I'm observing that she is changing from the original interpretation that I was given by my immigrant father, who reinforced the idea that she was really supposed to be this example of filial piety. You know like the kid who threw himself on the floor naked so that the mosquitoes wouldn't bother his parents. You know really intense filial piety. Now she is emerging as a feminist symbol of a woman warrior.

So, I look on this with great interest and I say well it's very interesting because it proves something which I've always believed, which is that legends, myths, and stories, traditional stories, whatever it maybe. Characters expand or contract, or sometimes are deleted altogether, or are introduced depending on the needs of the society that is using that story or that legend, or whatever that bit. If its to be a valid, not just a historical account written down in a book put on a library shelf, but if it's still used as a myth, still used as a story. So what happens now... Robin Hood's a good example.

All my life I've seen accounts of Robin Hood. The earliest one I remember is the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood, in which Maid Marian doesn't have a lot to say. Right? She's like really just the love interest. She just there, the fluff. Then over the past several years, last couple of decades, in new version of Robin Hood, Maid Marian has more and more to say and more and more to do because it reflects the society we live in when more and more people think that she shouldn't just be sitting up there in a tower embroidering. She's got to get out there and say things. She's got to be threatened by marriage to somebody she hates and then she's got to tell this guy off.

Kevin Costner's version, Maid Marian has this really intense relationship, she talks a lot, she expresses herself. Even a generation before, she was just supposed to be a nice girl, not this spitfire who tells him off and does all this other stuff. So characters expand or contract depending on what the society needs. Robin Hood as we probably know was like this intensely dirty guy, who never took a bath, who lived in the 10th Century, illiterate, somebody's riff raff, him and a bunch of homeless guys living in the forest bothering people.


I'm serious! So they became heroes because people needed heroes. So Fa Muk Lan... what happens to Fa Muk Lan? Same thing. The original image was to reinforce something very feudalistic, but now she's becoming this very positive, feminine, heroine.

So sitting down. How to deal with this story? First thing, got to get the original poem. So I got some friends to get me a copy of the original poem. Second problem, can't read it. It's in Chinese. All right. Got to get another friend to translate it for me and sit down with me and explain to me and answer and compare some of the little questions. Poem is done in a traditional style, five syllables and seven syllables and the end kind of meanders and goes no place. The end is a short couplet about the male rabbit and the female rabbit running side by side, one looks to the left, one looks to the right, that's it, right? Very subtle, too subtle for me. I don't get it, other than the rabbits, who knows?

All right, so here we go. So the first part is very easy, she's got to go, the premise is her father's supposed to go, and she's instead dressed as a man. Next part is easy, she becomes the hero. Last part difficult, why? First is, what has to happen? The story has to have a resolution, and it's got to be a positive resolution. In the resolution there has to be implied or stated the meaning of the story, otherwise it's just pleasant but it has no point. If she just comes home and changes her clothes and everybody goes, "Ooohh gah gah." So what? Right?

What has this to say? It implies that amongst other things that she did this "totally unnatural thing" and now her life is over, cause it doesn't say any more about it. Gotta have a life after her career cause otherwise what are we saying? Woman can have a career but she can't have a home or a life? Or she's forced to have life but no career? No, no, no, can't do that. So, she's got to get married, right? Maybe she doesn't get married. Had to wrestle with that too. Suppose she doesn't want to get married? Right? But what does that imply? That implies that women who have a career are like feminists, lesbians, who are not interested in men. No, no, no. I don't know if I want to say that. It certainly could be true but I don't know. It's not necessarily what I want to say.

All right She's gonna get married. Who's she gonna marry? She can't marry some smuck back there in the village, cause he's just some guy you know, digging dirt, spreading manure, and pooping in his pants out there in the fields. This woman just won a major war, some guy like that she is certainly not gonna... Wait a minute, there you go. Takes it a step further. Who's she gonna marry, can't be someone whose gonna browbeat her telling her she has to be a traditional woman cause she's already been in a war. She's probably had to kill guys herself, lead men into war. She can't be sitting around, "Yes, dear. No, dear." Right?

So who is she going to marry? Well, obviously it has to be somebody who knows her and admires the qualities that she has. It would have to be one of the guys that she fought with. But, if she gets married to one of these guys, these guys are all like military guys, a real deep bastion of male dominance and supremacy. It's gonna have to be a guy who'll accept her for who she is.

How is she going to determine that? She's gotta make it perfectly clear before they get married that he has to respect her, he has to treat her the right way. So, at the end of my version, one of the guys said, "Wow, I can't believe it! The bravest guy is now the most beautiful woman. Let's get married!" And she tells him, "No, no, no. Will you treat me... I know you treat your friends well. Now that I won't be your friend I'll be your wife will you treat me the same way? Same respect?" So he has to promise you know... you can't get something for nothing. There's a big wedding and that's it.

So, the spin I had to put on it I felt was to make sure that in terms of "a happy ending" that she was able to marry, and settle down in a relationship that would be basically a positive relationship. To imply that when it was necessary to get up and take care of business, she got up and took care of business, and when that was over she went back and she was still able to have a life. Because this whole issue about career versus home and family is a big issue. Can't imply one or the other totally otherwise you'd be in big trouble. So, there you are.

L.C. - Can you expand a little bit more about what you think the message of the story is?

What's the message of the story? Girls should be brave. Women should be brave. Part of the story is, don't forget when the concept first arose. This... we're talking about eight years ago, took me about a year to get the thing looked at. No actually more than that, they delayed the printing for a year, so we're actually talking about nine years ago. Nine years ago, the issue was to come up with a positive role model for Asian American kids, especially girls, especially females. I have a tendency to fall back on traditional things as a source, as a place to jump off from. So she was the perfect idea, perfect example, of somebody who would be consistent but at the same time could be used as a positive role model. People said we needed books besides the "Five Chinese Brothers." Something.

I'm a firm believer that many times when something is needed you can't wait. Wait and it's never going to come. You gotta get out there and do it yourself because what happens if everybody does that what you get is a whole bunch of terrible stuff. But some of it's good! For a hundred people all try their hand in it maybe eighty-five, ninety percent of it is like terrible because they've never tried before but some of it will be good because you'll luck into something. Who knows?

P.C. - Monkey at the typewriter, eh?


L.C. What I was wondering about was the original story, the difference between your version and the original in its message?

Well, the two versions that I saw either have her basically just come home, and the punchline, the resolution of the story, is that she turns back into a woman and that's the end of the story. Another one she becomes her father daughter's again and she's seen basically going back to farming. That's like the People's Republic of China version, where it was more important for her to become a farmer again, get out there in the fields and work. Because they were trying I guess to push the idea of the minutewoman, in this case. Somebody who was a farmer who when the country was in need would step forward and fight and then go back to farming.

F.H. - What kind of resolution does the Disney version have?

I don't know I haven't seen it. Coming out 19th of June. I have to go see it. Somebody's going to ask me what do you think of that. I don't know, I haven't seen it yet. As I commented the only thing that would be nice would be if they got so many millions of dollars of promotional materials, that anything having to do with it gets swept up in a Mulan mania. I'm happy. If they have to buy the book you know.

F.H. - (Laughter) They'll probably publish their own version.

Yeah, they'll publish their own version. But still, some of the spillover, bound to effect the sales of the book. It can't hurt.

P.C. - They've already come out with their own version in the bookstores. Multiple versions.

Oh really.

P.C. - About Disney, do you know how they are portraying Chinese in it?

I don't know. I don't know. One of the struggles I had when I was working on the piece was I believe I wanted to keep it in verse in some kind of poem form because my thought was for very young children this would be read aloud. And so I thought to keep this a consistent idea about this being a saga, a big narrative poem, that it should be written in poetry. I had to struggle with that. I eventually ended up just settling for couplets. Though I experimented with several forms first. And then the publishing company wanted to have the Chinese text side by side, which led to an interesting situation which is that my poem about Fa Muk Lan is an English translation version based on the Chinese poem. So the guy who wrote the poem had to make it consistent to my version, so the Chinese version in the book is a translation of my poem. So the original in my version and then a translation of my version. But that's how things happen.

L.C. - How would you add to the story if you were making the movie?

How would I add to the story? Interesting. There's three or four different areas immediately that would be ripe for investigation. One is her relationship to her siblings. She has a younger brother or younger sister apparently. Also her father, the father in the poem and I think in most of the stories is just two dimensional, just incidental to the story. He could be a little more complex. Maybe he's not such a nice guy. That would really underline the fact that she did what she had to do partly out of love of her father but partly also because she wanted to get out. O-U-T. Out, out, and away. Out. And crossdressing has been a traditional method for a lot of women throughout history to get out of this very confining gender role. And this was suddenly the opportunity to go to war.

Now this happens not infrequently up to the turn of the century and there are... there's a whole Civil War group that's involved in tracking down all the women who dressed as men to fight in the Civil War. There's almost two hundred apparently that they know of. So, what this tells me is that this issue has been going on for a long time. It's hard for us to think of it now but at one time the role of women... one time still in most countries, the role of women is so confined and the gender roles so specific that I would think that this would be another element. Because if you had this women who is obviously courageous and intelligent in a feudal system that she would ache to somehow get out. The premise would be to save her father but she would have her own motivation to.

Then the whole issue of warfare - that's a really wonderful field to explore about the whole issue of war. Why war? What war is for? A great opportunity to make pacifist and anti-war statements. You could show the carnage, the stupidity, the ridiculousness of how things happen, also to expose the mental mindset of militarists. Because I don't believe it's really changed since the days before the Christian era, with people slinging swords against each other 'til today they're throwing rockets. What's the difference, the mindset's the same.

Then this relationship with this guy that she ends up having a relationship with. What is that story all about? How is he going to... obviously he must have liked this character as a man but then he has to make this choice after she reveals herself to be a woman. And how could she so convincingly be a man unless let's face it, she's a little on the butch side, you know what I'm saying there? How's that going to work itself out? Because a lot of times gender roles are what we think is attractive about a woman. And why should he care? And what's that all about? Where are they going to live? How are people going to treat them? There's all these things that spiral off of these branches that come off the main trunk of the story. The single most important thing to any story is the basic format.

There has to be a premise, introduce a conflict, raise the conflict, bring it to a climax, then have a resolution. So if those key elements are there, like any good story, then the rest of it can grow out, little side stories can grow out. But if it doesn't have a mainframe...

L.C. - Usually during the journey the hero learns something. What did Mulan learn by going off to war?

That's another issue. Henry Morgan, the great privateer in the 1600's, made an interesting comment. He was very successful as a pirate in the Caribbean, "Its not that I'm so smart, it's everybody else is so stupid." What could she learn? Well, one of the things that she would learn is that people are heir to all of these very foolish decisions, very foolish perspectives that they have on things. You don't have to be a genius to figure out how it works and how things go. What would she learn? She'd learn more about herself, who she is, what she's capable of. It's one thing to show the hero or heroine charging into battle, that's good, that's positive, but what makes the story, what gives it depth, is what the hero or heroine went through before they led the charge inside their own head. The wavering, the discussion within themselves. This is like Hamlet.

Hamlet has to do this thing, but half of this piece about Hamlet is that he's not sure if he wants to do it, should he do it, should he not do it, should he kill himself, should he stay alive, should he let it go, should he go away. This is the plight, this is the whole issue. He's struggling, struggling. What am I gonna do?

So certainly she could use this as an opportunity for her as a person to struggle, for her to question the whole issue. What is a person's responsibility? What is this whole issue of war in the first place? What is nationalism? What does a person owe to other people? Then when she's quavering or she's deciding, several examples could be shown that describe the purposelessness of war and convince her that her job is to end it as quickly as possible. There are endless possibilities to explore. But the mainframe of the story has to be solid enough to hang all this stuff off.

L.C. - Usually the journey takes you back home. So do you think the basic story is that home is where she really wanted to go back to?

No, no, no. That's another question I couldn't really deal with. How could she settle back into a little village, after she'd seen the world, led thousands of men, into the palace? Kind of hard to sit back down in that shed eat cold rice after you've been treated as a major general, with an entourage. You know, interesting questions. What would she have to do? Where would she go? We don't know. Leads to a story, "Daughter of Fa Mulan"!

P.C. - How do you think other people from other ethnic backgrounds will relate to the story?

Very well, I'll tell you why. Such a New York thing to say, and I'll tell you why! Because it has nothing to do with her ethnicity, it has to do with her gender, therefore it's immediately appealing. Because, Disney, I don't know what their think tank went through when they were deciding on choosing this other than I know they were looking for a heroine, a suitable heroine, for a long time, preferably Asian. Somebody found this story and it's a obvious choice. I mean obvious enough for me, I'm not that bright and I chose it, right? I don't think they spent a lot of time worrying about the ethnicity other than she not be a European-American girl. This has a combination of being exotic, another time, another place. But the real issue is that heroine, the fact that she is a girl, that this girl has to do something special.

That gets back to the story too, in line with the story of the hero, in a much expanded version, there would probably be some foreshadowing that she would do something great. When she was born some incident or something would indicate... like when the neighborhood bullies picked on her brother she stood up and beat them off, some kind of foreshadowing that she had the moxie. But this here again, if you had time and you had the space to really develop the story you could do this.

L.C. - Well that kind of wraps up our questions about the book. Are there any other books that you are working on now or anything else you maybe working on now?

Yeah, I'm working on a book now, it's a novel, a full length novel about men involved at the turn of the century in what was known as the tong wars. Because that area there has never really been dealt with and there's a reason why. Many of the organizations involved are still around and many of those organizations don't like anything negative written about their organization. So, it's made it for a lot of people a tricky situation. First of all, there's the whole Asian thing of being Chinese in the United States, and the tong wars being seen as like a real mar, a real black eye on the face of the Chinese in America, because if reinforces the whole idea of Chinese being illegal immigrants who are involved in crime and drugs and murder. So no one really wants to discuss it.

P.C. - It spoils the model minority image.

Yeah, it does. So nobody really wants to discuss that. Then the other issue is, as I said, there are these organizations that don't want to bring it up either. They're not that hot about releasing information or talking about parts of their past which could be seen in a negative light. So much so I know that many organizations in the Chinese American community that formerly had been known as the tong are now somewhere in the 30's started to change their names so that it would not include the word "tong", because they knew that automatically that that was a signal to non-Chinese Americans that this was some kind of criminal organization. Ha Ha.

But the issue is that for a brief period in time from roughly the 1890's to about the 1920's, thirty year period, there arose in this country a very American product, which was the professional tong association assassin, the bu hao doy. These guys came out, and what they were were an extension of what had existed before in China. But in the pressure cooker of America it went three or four steps further and became killing for killing's sake, killing for money, killing where honor no longer played a role in it. In the beginning, you know, it was about honor and this and that... But in a very American, very practical, the bottom line is money, it evolved into something else and then of course it had to play itself out. Which is eventually the old rule of those who live by the sword must die by the sword eventually would have to exhaust itself because since the very nature of it's premise, violence, would mean it's own end. This strata of people, this group of people. And the fact that there are so many interesting stories about real people. This is the minefield, to alternately use real people who were around then and others who are, other characters who are modeled on real people who were around then, without insulting half the people I know in New York City Chinatown.

But, the guy I'm thinking about, the hero, no, the anti-hero, is the guy who was responsible, they believe, for over sixty deaths. He personally killed sixty people! It was like a major number of people! All of these outlaws of the Old West, none of them ever killed that many people. Looking at a guy in the eye and shooting him in the face, shoot the guy in the back, whatever. So there's a lot of complex and very interesting stories and then overall what hits me is that you come to the realization that this situation exists because of the very nature of your existence here.

The very nature of a Chinatown is built upon a certain premise. Part of it is that the group of people are peripheralized, they're excluded legally and socially from the mainstream society, so they are not able to take the normal avenues that, for instance young men with ingenuity, courage, and acumen, things they would normally be able to do, they're prevented from doing. And so it becomes perverted, it becomes twisted. It still has to get out. There are people who are going to survive and make the decision at some point, I want to survive and these are the rules and this is how I'm going to survive. But the very situation that they're in causes something to happen and this can be shown by the fact that in China the same organizations existed but they didn't evolve into what they did here. The environment caused the manifestation of this particular thing.

F.H. - Do you have a publisher for this?

No, not yet. I'm still working on it, when I'm not doing half the other things I'm doing I try to get back to working on this piece. It keeps expanding and contracting. I wanted it to be a small book originally, but then I thought about how all these stories branched off and that's too much... Arrrggggghhh!!! My biggest concern is that there has to be a love interest. This is the same problem that Louis Chew had in "Eat a Bowl of Tea". Any of you ever read a "Bowl of Tea?" The original book?

L.C. - I saw the movie.

All right. When you read the book the love interest is practically just thrown in. She was thrown in. The issue was that Louis Chew had written the book, by his own account, on his lap traveling to and from on the subway to Queens College when he was going to school at night. So, riding a train forty minutes, he wrote the book on his lap in longhand as he was going to and from classes at Queen's College. He had a friend who looked at it and said, "You know this is very good but there's no love interest." And the reason why there's no love interest is because` he was writing about Chinatown during the bachelor society so there were no women! Of course there was no love interest! So his friend told him if you want to get this published there's got to be a love interest, so that's why he included quote, "somebody's wife coming over."

So, it made me realize and it's true, realistically for an adult novel, there has to be a love interest, even if it's just tacked on, there's gotta be something there, because otherwise it's really really very difficult to sell. The other element of it to, just like Fa Muk Lan, one of the things I learned long ago, especially telling stories to non-Asian people, is that people like to enjoy going to different places and seeing new things, but they like to think that even though the people they meet are different from them in their exterior, that everyone is essentially the same in their interior. Human relations are essentially the same no matter where you go as long as they are humans.

That's true, with a qualifying asterisk written in the chart, true in the sense that it is essentially true, not necessarily true the way people think, because they are only capable of imagining what they have access to, what they've experienced, what they project could possibly be true. So it is true that people are basically the same, but that amount of similarity is probably considerably less than people think it is. Even the most generous liberal likes to think that everybody is like this. But they're caught in the same problem that the frog at the bottom of the well has.

The frog at the bottom of the well lives in a well and all he can see is a circle of sky and when he has time to be philosophical about it he thinks that there are... there must be an endless number of other wells with other frogs in them who are all looking up at the sky. And that's all he can imagine because he can't imagine anything else, because he can't see anything else so he doesn't know. But therefore, what he has access to, he's smart enough to envision then there must be others and they all must be in their own wells someplace else.

So we imagine that if we have a relationship with somebody or have a family unit that other families must be similar even though they appear to be different and act different, they must essentially be the same. Or the cultures, even though they appear to be different, they seem to act differently, they must essentially be the same. The problem is that that is true on a level, but not as much as people think. You follow me?

All right. So, this gets back to a whole other issue of writing a piece, if you're going to be historically accurate about the bachelor society there were no women to speak of. That was such a small portion of society, this story is that it wasn't the experience of the average person. On the other hand if you wish to tell the story you cannot tell the story without including a love interest. You have to cook the rice first. You can't eat it when it's not cooked. You cook it, you have to decide well is it going to be soft, is it going to be hard, long grain, short grain, long grain.

P.C. - Here's a possible solution, when my father was in China in the 1930's, he learned how to roll his R's because one of the neighbor kids was half Mexican, half Chinese. So that was one of the solutions that Chinese bachelors found. That's how he learned to roll his R's cause he played with this Mexican kid.

Rolling his R's? Uh huh. OK, sure. That's another element too, a lot of people don't realize how much more complex any particular group is than they suppose. That's what I mean about this frog in the well. The frog assuming then that all frogs must be like him or if they're not like him that whole group must be like something else. So all Asians, the Asian American experience, the Chinese American experience must be all homogenous, it must be variations on one basic idea. That's true on a level, but not really. Like that kid, people who are polycultural.

L.C. - Speaking about your analogies, how do you pull yourself out of the well?

P.C. - Maybe you should speak with the Great Tortoise from the Eastern Sea.

The way you get the frog out of the well is the same way the frog got into the well. You understand?

L.C. - Not exactly.

How do you know there's a frog in the well? How do you know there's a well?

L.C. - Our own real world situation. We live in America. We start thinking about American ideals from an American perspective, how can you get a different perspective?

You get the frog out of the well in the same the way the frog got in the well.

L.C. - Actually leave the well?

All right. You are ethnic Chinese in America, or in another way to say this is that you're an overseas Chinese living in America. Right? Were you born here?

L.C. - Yes.

So, you're overseas Chinese living in America, Or you're a Chinese American. Or you're Californian. Go to college, university? Degree in what?

L.C. - Science.

So you are a college graduate with a degree in science. The frog gets out of the well the same way you put him into the well. You don't understand do you? OK. Guy walks into a butcher store, looks around, and tells the butcher I want the best piece of meat you have in the store. The butcher tells him, pick any piece, every piece here is the best piece. All right. There's a king...


There's a king and one day he wakes up, he had a dream. In my dream all my teeth fell out. Who can answer the meaning of this dream? So they sent for a wise man who asks what is it? The king says in my dream all my teeth fell out. The wise man says the answer is obvious, you are going to watch every one of your relatives die. The king says, What?! You dare tell me this?! Has the guy dragged outside and his head cut off.. I need another wise man. The next wise man comes in. I had a dream, all my teeth fell out, what's the answer? Oh the answer is very auspicious, means you will outlive all your relatives.

The way the frog got into the well is the way the frog gets out of the well. What made you an Asian American will take you out of being an Asian American, will evolve you into what's coming next. Not to belabor the point...

P.C. - You have to view things in a different way... Ignore the label of the thing.

Is that me? Is that me? (Laughter) When we start drifting into philosophy it's time for me to go.

Back to the Chalie Chin Interview Index

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