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Comet Tails

17 Jan

Mom Would’t Approve

Episode 1

* * * 

Tommy was a teacher in the village where my Dad lived. He made $100 a month, a good salary by Southern China standards. I employed him as my interpreter and right-hand man during my stay in China. For six weeks he lived a Rock-Star life, eating out every evening with me, drinking on me, smoking weed for his first time with me, and scoring a cutie with me. It was the least I could do, for without him, the language barrier with my own people would have made it impossible to carry out my mission as a Chin in China. 

 * * *

I stumble out of the bar and find Tommy with his arm around Massage Girl. With her passes at me going nowhere she had targeted Tommy instead. Tommy fidgets back and forth looking between Massage Girl and me, his eyes filled with hope. I take in Massage Girl’s petite body and heavy breasts for a second.

Why didn’t I make this trip as a single man? I’m getting married in two months.

I shake my head and laugh, time for me to leave.

“Tommy!” I say as I slap his shoulder and smile, “I go room. Hotel! Very tired.”

“Ok!” he yells running into the street to wave down a ride for me.

Within seconds a motorcycle pulls up and I climb onto the back. Tommy speaks in fast bursts and I nod having no idea what he’s telling the man on the motorcycle. I barely have time to grip the seat bar. My head jerks back and then I know exactly what they talked about.

No doubt, he told the guy, “This American is drunk. This is his last night here. Make him fall off and I’ll split his stuff with you. Here’s my number.”

The streetlights extend into long comet tails; the roar of the motorcycle seems distant—like a sonic boom trying to catch us. Tai San, China, the city at the center of my gene pool will be the place where I die. Splattered against a building or smeared over a quarter mile of pavement. The comet tails stop and there are just walls and shadows. We are in an alley; I won’t be found until morning if I’m found at all. I consider jumping off but he never slows down. There is nothing I can do but hold on so I adjust my grip on the rear seat bar and leaned into the driver’s sweaty back for counter pressure. Fear snaps me into a man ready to fight for his life. I wait for him to stop and a team of thugs to surround me. I visualize finding a weapon, anything—a pipe, a rock, or a street sign and giving them a dose of Drunken Master—Jacken Chan style.

Wah Bah!

Suddenly, we merge into traffic at an impossible angle and the comet tails return. The stores look familiar and my hotel shines. When traveling Mom always tells me to use legit taxis. She definitely would not approve of a drunk high-speed motorcycle ride with a stranger but at least I wasn’t driving.

 China Sit on Mom's House PortraitChilling on the roof of the house where my Mom was born.

Southern China 2006

 * * *

Ryan Chin is the creator ofWithout Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir with two dozen short videos accenting the written word. Mr. Chin likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, ibooks, and locally at Powell’s Books. His next multimedia memoir, Who Put the Chin in China, is a work in progress. 




The Hope He Had

30 Sep

Winner of the 2014 Oregon Writer’s Colony writing contest. 

Finalist in the 2015 Pacific Northwest Writers Association writing contest.


Sometimes a walk with your dog is not always just a walk with your dog…

That’s what the detective told me when the case was closed.

It started when I took my dog to a river. Gnarled tree stumps carried from headwater streams shared the shoreline with plastic bottles, candy wrappers, and the occasional hypodermic needle. Cranes dotted the Williamette River’s banks, perched over the water like herons waiting for prey. The metal reverb of shipping containers echoed across the water. Ospreys and gulls traded calls. Vessels of all sizes sliced the surface of the river. Cormorants bobbed in their wakes, diving for long minutes in search of food. Cars raced east and west on the bridges, salmon charged upstream, and century-old sturgeon sifted through silt in the depths.

I roamed the river’s edge, pocketed pebbles, and wrestled large pieces of driftwood back to my van for my garden. My footprints were crisscrossed with the drag marks of my latest finds. Big Head, my yellow lab, pawed and chewed at the logs as we moved along, steady but unhurried, like the currents at our side.  

I noticed the black briefcase first. Zippers open, sand sticking to the cloth areas. With warning thoughts about heroin needles, I searched the main compartment and pockets, never plunging my hand in blindly. No identification. Empty. Then I noticed the shoes, the shirts, and the pants nearby. I wondered if the contents had spilled out naturally, or if someone had dumped them looking for bounty. I knelt, reached for the nearest pants pocket and felt the unmistakable shape of a wad of money, rolled and bending slightly with each squeeze of my hand. Continue reading

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.