West Meets East This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 9, 2012
My mom stood in the living room cleaning a white porcelain Buddha. Like some dust-busting Xena, she shot a spritz of Fantastik onto its bald head and wiped it vigorously with an old T-shirt. Then she focused her cleaning abilities on the dusty terra cotta robes of Jesus, moved on to Mary’s plastic, blue veil and then decided Buddha’s head wasn’t shiny enough after all.

Wow, I thought. I guess we lost more money in the stock market than I realized. As I walked through the rest of my house, I began to asses our family’s financial status by applying a theory I developed long ago - the cleaner the house during off-holiday season, the more debts we owe. I carefully opened our fridge, ready to catch any pig intestines, fish heads or soy sauce packets apt to fall out of an overstuffed, Chinese refrigerator. But I didn’t have to catch anything between my knees this time. All I had to do was blink into the light of the fridge (which I hadn’t seen for over two years) and wonder that I could actually see space between the milk and the economy-sized tub of margarine. Yep, it was time to start deep-frying onion rings at White Castle again.

But if a clean fridge was the worst of it, at least it would hardly be unusual (to normal families, that is). In the middle of my dining table, I saw a bright orange, porcelain fish leaping into the air. On the walls, I saw gold and red signs of the Chinese character xi hung upside down. And the mirrors were covered with white sheets. Did Amy Tan decide to come over and redecorate my house? Then my gaze fell upon the culprit innocently lying on the couch - a book titled The Art of Feng Shui. I doubled over with laughter. She’ll come to her senses soon enough, I thought.

I thought wrong. The following week, my mom decided at 1:00 a.m. that my bed was placed in a bad Feng Shui position.

“Nin, wake up,” my mother whispered fiercely in Chinese. “Your bed is not supposed to face the door.”

“What do you want me to do? Move it now?” I replied groggily.

“Just turn your body around for now so your feet face the door and not your head,” she said slapping my leg to get me to obey.

“Ow, ow, all right, all right,” I groaned, turned my body around, and then fell back onto the bed, pulling the covers back over me.

But my mom still didn’t leave me alone. “Nin! One more thing!” I heard her say.

“What now?” came my muffled voice.

“Tomorrow I want you to clean the fish tank downstairs and get rid of those black angel fish. They’re no good. Go buy some big, fat goldfish.”

At that point, I really thought I was dreaming. “What? I just can’t flush those fish down the toilet!” I yelled.

“Just return them,” she said calmly.

“I bought those fish two years ago!”

“Then give them to someone,” she replied matter-of-factly. All right, that was it. It was time to confront her about these absurdities. I jumped out of bed, flicked on the light and squinted at her.

“Mom, don’t you think this is getting stupid? You’re a woman with a graduate degree and a career, not some mother from The Joy Luck Club,” I said, trying to reason with her.

She didn’t say anything.

I switched gears and hit where I knew it would hurt. “And aren’t you a Christian? I thought you were supposed to place your faith in God, not these dumb superstitions.” She looked a little sheepish.

“And do you really think this is going to help us get our money back or pay my way through college?”

Then she just looked sad and her eyes became bleak. I had more to say, but I couldn’t go on when I saw her expression. She seemed so hopeless. She got up quietly and left.

I turned the light off and wondered, What did that accomplish? I just got my mom really depressed. But at least she’s not living in la la land. She’s got to face reality, I argued with myself.

Then I had an epiphany of sorts, but in the form of an American Express commercial. Goldfish: $2.00, Chinese signs: $1.50, House-cleaning: $0. Peace of mind: priceless. Reason is cold comfort. Besides, the world doesn’t make much sense. I decided to buy some goldfish.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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