A TV and a Microwave

by Jerri

My mother was telling me about a distant relative of ours. His mother was white, and his father was Chinese. After a while, his mother passed away and he grew up more or less with his father. At some point, he decided that he wanted to meet his father’s side of the family, “because family was important to him,” my mother said. After all, if there’s one thing that’s been repeated over and over again, it’s that family comes first, beyond friends and anything else. It’s a Chinese value as implied over the years, not American, like a carefully measured differentiation in these two systems that do not mix in the way oil and vinegar does not. If you don’t have family, you don’t really have much, she mentioned.

I don’t know whether she was trying to make that point with me when she randomly told me this story.

But in any case, this man, biracial by birth, sold his house, quit his job and moved to China to find that side of his family. My mother knows this, because his TV and microwave were our first when my parents came here during the 80s and had us. We were on the receiving end of his moving out of the states. I remember breaking off a little cover piece and discovering little knobs for the TV that changed the channels without the need of a remote control. I remember the dust that settled on the brown finish and glass-like screen. Curious appliances.

“What happened to him?” I asked.

“He came back,” my mother said. China apparently didn’t work out that well for him. Or maybe he realized that it was time for him to return to the states. Either way, he didn’t stay there excessively long. I don’t know this relative of ours; he was apparently distant enough that we never met him and I didn’t know of him until my mother spoke of him several months ago. But we had his microwave and TV, and those two items lasted us all the way through those early years in the outskirts of Chinatown and Oakland when my parents were adjusting to living in the states.

I’m trying to imagine him as someone who had decided to make a major decision in his life, maybe with a streak of adventure, or someone who worked in a cubicle until he had a wake-up call one day. I want to make meaning out of this story, but I don’t know anything about him at all. All I know is that we got our TV and microwave from him when my parents first immigrated here because he decided to move to China.