Thousand

26 Feb

$1000

One year ago I found a thousand dollars, or maybe I should say a thousand dollars found me. The story behind the money and what it means to me as a first generation Chinese-American is not a coincidence. I didn’t keep the money but the experience has been a priceless creative prompt. Below is the beginning of a 2000 thousand word essay I’m working on, and a good friend will be helping me shoot a short film in April. The quote at the top of my blog by Wendell Berry reads, “We are nothing without stories.” This story found me, a multi-media storyteller, so that I could share it. 

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

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

It started when I found a missing man’s clothes on a beach. Gnarled tree stumps carried from headwater streams shared the shoreline with plastic bottles, candy wrappers, and the occasional hypothermic needle. Cranes dotted the river’s banks perched over the water like herons waiting for prey, though cranes lack the grace of vertebrae. 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 dog, 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 thoughts of heroin needles, I searched the main compartment and pockets never plunging my hand 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 dumped it 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.

My eyes shot up and down the bank.  Was there a body? Was someone watching? Was I getting involved in something I should avoid? Not wanting to stand up with the wad of bills, I pretended to tie my shoes, slipped the money into my socks and scurried away. Back in my van I counted the money–ten one hundred dollar bills, cold and damp from the river…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe scene a year ago with the Fremont Bridge in the background. 

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Rainbow NZjpg   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. The book is available at Amazon and locally at Powell’s Books. When he’s not finding large sums of money, he can be found wrestling with his boys (furry and non-furry). 

Mena Kore E heke mai te ua, Ehara te Kopere (Maori Proverb)

6 Feb

 

Mena Kore E heke mai te ua, Ehara te Kopere

Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows

Rainbow NFN

Oregon Coast February 2014

Moment: An exact point in time. (Oxford Dictionary)

Rainbow:  A moment created by billions of moments working collectively. 

* * *

It takes billions of raindrops to form a rainbow and the work of each drop lasts only a fraction of second, for while the bow hangs in the sky the drops themselves are falling… a perfect example of collective action in nature.  “Weather” By T. HOKE)

* * *

I’ve always appreciated rainbows but after living in New Zealand, I came to embrace them. I arrived in NZ during springtime mourning the loss of my dog and my brother. Sometimes I’d see the sun come and go dozens of times during a single day as I searched for a teaching job. I lost count of the number of times gray clouds of despair yielded to double rainbows of teary-eyed jubilation. I eventually landed a job in the countryside and met the rainbow pictured below; it ended up gracing the cover of my multimedia book, Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows.

Rainbow

Ryan Chin Book Cover

“I notice a wall of rain in the eastern sky and the sun striving to find a hole in the clouds…Seizing the moment and catching it just right consumes me in many different ways…I’ve started trying to catch rainbows.

After studying the clouds’ movements, the location of the sun, and the size of the raindrops, I try to position myself in the right place to watch a rainbow materialize. When I hit it just right, the clouds part, a rainbow pastes itself to the center of my vision, and I’m reminded all over again of the brevity of beauty. It’s not quite as exhilarating as tucking myself inside the tube of a wave, but I’ll take it…”

Excerpt from “Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows.”

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The size and number of rain drops, the angle and intensity of the sun, and your position must be perfect in order to meet a rainbowEven when the rainbow seems close, you can never actually stand under one and see it at the same time because as the diagram below shows, your position matters. Continue reading

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

31 Jan

Prologue

My existence started long before I was born.”

Bars

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?”

“Yup.”

“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.

These Aren’t the Cookies You’re Looking For…

21 Jan

Last summer I enjoyed a father-son camping trip with two of my friends. As I kicked back next to the fire tossing an occasional potato chip and jerky strip to my son, I listened to the conversation with our boys.

Do you want some pasta?

No.

Do you want some juice?

No.

Should we go check out the lake?

No.

Potty?

No.

It’s almost sleepy time. Ok?

No

My mate put it best when he said, “I’ve never been so rejected in my life.”

I’ve been a Dad for almost four years and I’m starting to understand that giving my boys too many choices or phrasing everything as a question isn’t fair to them. I’m not talking about being a military sergeant or not giving them choices. It’s just easy to be too accommodating or to have a ‘keep the peace’ attitude all the time. My boys need to know how the real world works. I don’t get an insurance bill in the mail that says, “Pay this amount when you can. Ok?” Seriously, I bet if you put a quarter in a jar every time you say ok? to your toddler that you’d have enough for a bottle of bourbon in three days.

Get in the car ok?

Here’s some toast ok?

We are leaving soon ok?

Put on your shoes ok?

It’s a proven fact that a toddler’s brain is wired to be selfish. Asking instead of telling gives them more power to be selfish. We’ve all seen it. Kids reject stuff they like because you’ve given them a choice. I think having a tone where they constantly have a choice confuses and actually overwhelms them.  Giving them power and empowering is part of our jobs as parents but sometimes it’s simply time for bed, time to eat, and time to put on their damn shoes. Last year I toned down the questions and the use of ok, and it seems to be working. I know parenting like marriage is fluid and ever-changing so who knows, a different attitude and tactic may be called upon in this next year. Maybe some Obi Wan and a little Skywalker?

You will eat this bagel. You will eat it now.

We are leaving. We are leaving now.

These aren’t the cookies you are looking for.

And if all else fails—gas ’em!

* * *

Ryan Chin is the creator of Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir about his teaching experience in New Zealand.  The book is available on Amazon, iTunesand locally at Powell’s Books.

 

I Can See For Miles…and Miles…

28 Aug

Not many dogs have logged miles on both sides of the equator. Big Head is eleven years old. We logged our first miles together in New Zealand ten years ago. I know that each day, each week, and each rode trip we take is a gift. Driving into a sunrise or sunset is always better with a nose licking furry co-pilot. 

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Chin Beach 2012 -

Big Head is the new dog in the book, Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir about Ryan Chin’s teaching experience in New Zealand. Mr. Chin likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and locally at Powell’s Books. Mr. Chin keeps a stack on his dashboard for random giveaways. So if you see a Chinese guy driving a big white van with a yellow lab in the passenger seat, toss a steak in their window. Mr. Chin will give you a book and Big Head will give you a lick.

Splash Because You Can

6 May

Without Rain There Would Be No Puddles

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If you live in Portland, you better like H20.

I surf. I fish. I snowboard.

Maybe one day my boys will want to ride a wave, carve down a mountain, and stand in a river with me.

For now, they’re content making a splash.

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Ryan Chin is the author of Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir about his teaching experience in New Zealand. He likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and in Portland at Powell’s Books. He considers sitting in the car for an extra five minutes by himself a legit vacation. He has mastered the 1 hour spring-break and is a 24 hour road trip Jedi.

Creating Smiles

24 Apr

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Sometimes I drive a hundred miles through snow and ice to jump into forty-five degree water with my surfboard. A wave meets me and we share some time for ten seconds. I smile.

Sometimes I drive a hundred miles, sleep in a cold van, and stand in thirty-eight degree water for hours. I cast and I cast, and sometimes I catch. The actual hooking and catching of a fish lasts a couple minutes. I smile.

Sometimes I pack the family car for days and drive two hundred miles with crying kids. They go to sleep wailing and wake up screaming at 5:00. I light a fire in the fireplace to distract the unhappy-ones, change their crappy diapers, and go-go-go for an adventure because I’m  too tired to argue with my wife about who gets to go back to sleep. We stop at a sand mound on the side of the road and my big boy scrambles up. He bags the peak and raises his arms with a snow covered volcano as his backdrop. I smile.

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* * *

Shorebreak 10:31

Ryan Chin is the author of Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir about his teaching experience in New Zealand. He likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and in Portland at Powell’s Books. He considers sitting in the car for an extra five minutes by himself a legit vacation. He has mastered the 1 hour spring-break and is a 24 hour road trip Jedi.