Who Put the Chin in China? (A Multimedia Memoir)

31 Jan


My existence started long before I was born.”


I know I came from somewhere, some place, some time. There were events that needed to happen, didn’t happen, and almost happened that allow me to be here today. This book, however, is not just about me. It is about looking beyond our own beating hearts and into the hearts that made us. This story is not just mine, but it will now be part of yours. Every word we hear, speak, write, or read impacts us in some way—becomes a memory. Our ancestors, our living family, our friends, and the random people we meet, shape us into who we are and who we will be. Life is more than a heartbeat. Life is a story: past, present, and future.

* * *

The year is 1949, the Japanese defeated. Chairman Mao ZeDong raises his hand in victory. Although many rejoice, his rise to power means persecution for many. Families flee and families split. The eldest males voyage to far away places not knowing if they will prosper, unsure when and if they will see their family again. The United States is a prime destination.

Families left behind wait for letters and money, any news that will allow them to leave. Many are apprehended and relocated to labor camps. No one is spared from the suffering. A little girl eats rice with her hands; she is lucky to have anything to eat at all. Her mother picks rice off the girl’s dress, strokes her long black hair and smiles. Mothers hold back tears for their children, mothers give warmth when all is cold. The little girl has never met her father. She will meet him for the first time on American soil when she is eleven years old.

Meanwhile, a ten year old boy in a nearby village squats at the edge of a pond. He wonders when he will see his Dad again, thinks about what America is like. His eyes pierce the reflection of a large tree and he leans forward. Water buffalo in adjacent rice fields lift their heads, muddy water dripping down their noses and to the tips of their whiskers. Egrets stalking tadpoles freeze midstride. They do not understand the boy’s screams. The boy struggles but the sides are steep and he is too small to touch the bottom. Not far way, a teenager being chased by his friends comes to a halt. His friends tag and push him but games are the last thing on his mind. Through the sounds of laughter and stampeding feet he heard the cry of life and death. The teenager leaves his friends and reacts.

The teenager’s quick actions and the resolve of the mother in the labor camp gave me, Ryan Chin, a chance to exist. The drowning boy was my Dad and the starving girl my Mom.

* * * 

In 2004, my cousin showed me a picture of a table in China; he had just returned from a trip with our Ya Ya (Grandpa).

“What’s the deal with that table?” I asked.

“It was grandma’s. She brought that from her village when she married Ya Ya.”

“No way! It’s in the old house?”


“I’m going to get it.”

“C’mon? Really?”

“Yup…bringing it home to restore it. Catching the whole adventure on video…”

Two years later I pushed a broken down bike into Ya Ya’s village. People swarmed me firing questions and shouting my native language. I understood little but I picked up on one sentence: He came home.

In addition to retrieving my grandma’s table, I knelt next to the pond where my Dad almost drowned, the same tree casting its reflection across the stained water. Tears flowed as I stood in the room where my mother was born. I fed dried bamboo into Ya Ya’s old stove, coughed from the smoke, and served up tasty stir-fries. And of course no adventure to one’s homeland is complete without a treasure hunt. Before I left, a great uncle whispered rumors to me about  “pounds of gold” in an ancestral house. I snuck amongst the squatting family who lived there, reached into crevices of my past–echoes of my bloodlines rushed through me.

I was on a mission; I was a Chin in China.

Ye Ye was the coolest Chin of them all.

 * * *

 Ya Ya Altar and Me

Ryan Chin is the creator of, Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir about his teaching experience in New Zealand. Mr. Chin likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. Two dozen short videos enhance the written word. The book is available at Amazon and locally at Powell’s Books. He hopes to complete his next multimedia memoir, Who Put the Chin in China, in the next decade.


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