Why Baba Hates Chicken This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

July 30, 2009
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We had been driving for hours, and the yellow dust was starting to coat the car windows. We were far into the Chengdu countryside of southern China, and the car shook as we rumbled down the dirt pathways through the span of green, yellow, and sky. It was all beginning to look the same. I listened to my grandmother, my waipo, chatting with my uncle as he smiled behind the wheel. It was just the three of us; the rest of the family followed in another vehicle.

Some time later, we passed a rooster. As I wondered how it got there and who it belonged to, Waipo began talking about what she would make for dinner. “Chao qu gua?” (Sauteed bittermelon?) “Shou si ji?” (Hand-torn chicken?)

“Aye,” she suddenly remembered, “your Baba doesn't eat chicken meat.”

It was true. My dad never ate chicken.

“Poor LiuHong,” Waipo continued, calling Baba by his full name. “All he ate was chicken those first few years. Chicken was cheap. Aye, boiled chicken every night for so long … a little salt, perhaps. How was he supposed to know how to cook chicken? Tai kelian le … too pitiful.” She shook her head and sighed.

It suddenly struck me that I'd never wondered why Baba despised the taste of chicken. Had I been so ignorant to think that it was just personal preference?

My mom had whispered the story of Baba's first years in America, working in a cafeteria at night while studying on full scholarship at the university by day, but I only knew parts. I never asked either. That seemed best; the dust that would rise from digging around could have some unknown, ­terrible effect.

Boiled chicken? I imagined Baba scanning the prices on packages of chicken at the supermarket, heating water on the stove, sitting alone with the meat before him. He had come to America on borrowed money, Waipo told me. He had borrowed 4000 yuan – just $500 – the majority of which he had spent on the plane ticket over to MeiGuo, the Beautiful Country.

It took him two years to save enough to send for my mom and me. I was two by then and terrified of Baba, a stranger whom I didn't recognize. I ran away when he tried to hug me, my mother said. I cried when he picked me up.

I had heard these stories before, but I had always stood up for myself. It wasn't fair to expect a two-year-old to be accepting of a person she had never met. I hadn't done anything wrong. It was his fault for leaving me in China in the first place, I would retort, but this was the consequence of knowing only a sliver of my father's journey.

It turns out that Baba had written letters asking for pictures of me every month, and sent birthday money from his savings when I turned one. Waipo showed me the album with all the pictures of me that Baba had saved, taping them meticulously into the waterproof 4-by-6 booklet.

I imagined Baba standing by a mailbox with a torn brown envelope in his hand, smiling at the photo of fat little me on my first birthday, wearing the pink dress that my mom had bought with the money he'd sent. “We miss you and love you forever,” the back of the photograph said in Chinese. I imagined him wiping tears from his thick-rimmed glasses. I knew how much he hated being alone. This self-sacrificing man was the stranger I had so ignorantly pushed away.

I must have broken his heart. I hated my two-year-old self for not understanding. I hated my two-minute-ago self for not understanding.

I turned to look out the dusty back window at the black car behind us. Baba smiled from the driver's seat, the corners of his eyes lifting as he waved. I waved back. In the background, I heard Waipo talking about how to prepare frog legs. Frog legs were Baba's favorite. I smiled.

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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This article has 13 comments. Post your own now!

gnarbonne said...
Mar. 10, 2015 at 11:15 am
love this story. Its a perfect example of how much our parents love us.
feather duster said...
Oct. 2, 2012 at 10:14 am
it's good but i don't really understand what it is about.
SKATERS said...
Jan. 4, 2011 at 10:27 am

your story is amazing we love it and i think u should become an author cause u are a AUTHOR! I HOPE YOUR LIFE IS WELL:)

                     by:skaters we love your story

Nov. 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm
this guy's cool replied...
Nov. 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm
Khellific said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 11:16 am
I think thats a cool idea how you wrote in a different language then translated it.
Xela97 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm
i just wanted to say that when you wrote chengdu, i was taken into the story. i used to live there - im not chinese, though
DiamondsIntheGrass This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 11, 2010 at 9:35 am
just another example of how much our parents love us.
MikkiLee said...
May 10, 2010 at 5:53 pm
Maybe Im just slow, but how does it explain how he hates chicken>?
DiamondsIntheGrass This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 11, 2010 at 9:33 am
when he came to america, he had about 500 dollars in his pocket.  for the average family, that would last about one month. but then he spent most of it on the plane ticket to get to america.  since chicken was the cheapest food, he ate chicken every day for two years to save enough money to bring his family over.  boiled chicken.  every day. for two years.  i shudder jsut thinking about it.  it sounds worse than white rice (and i REALLY don't liek white rice.).
magic-esi This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 2, 2010 at 10:11 am
This memoir is beautifully written. I loved reading it. Keep writing, please!
readrunand'rite said...
Nov. 13, 2009 at 6:57 pm
This was an amazing account of what your dad went through. I felt a certain connection to it, since my mom and dad went through much of the same struggles, and I, too, was terrified of them when I first came to America at age 4. Anyway, this was a really moving memoir - I especially liked your description of your dad sitting alone with boiled chicken in front of him every night for two whole years. And I thought that the Chinese phrases added a really cool effect. Keep up the great writing!
Proviso This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm
I really enjoyed reading this and I can totally relate. My dad hates chicken too for the same reason your dad does. Sometimes we forget the sacrifices our parents make or we don't know how to express our gratitude, but I like how your essay shows your appreciation without being sappy and cliche.
Yum- frog legs :)
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