The main character of my Josie Tucker mysteries is a half-Thai girl who spends some of her formative years growing up in Arizona. Sounds like a weird spin on a spaghetti western, right? If you’re curious where this odd combo comes from, it’s an intensely personal point of view. Let me try to explain…
Grandma Goes to Hong Kong
Family lore has it that when my parents were living in Hong Kong in the 1960s, my dad invited his mom to go over and visit them. Despite being Chinese-American (and Cantonese to boot), she had never been to Hong Kong.
My grandma was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota—yes, Deadwood, if you were a fan of the HBO show—and had owned and run a restaurant in southern Ohio for most of her adult life. (My pop told me that J. Edgar Hoover once ate there. Now I’m wondering if I made that up, but there’s no one left to tell me I’m full of b.s. I want to say J. Edgar ordered a steak, which my grandpop was known for cooking to perfection.)
“Why would I want to come to Hong Kong?” my grandma had asked in her typical self-deprecating and taciturn way. “I don’t know anybody there.”
She was very southern Ohio, if you’ve experienced that particular drawl. John Wayne was born in Iowa, apparently, but my grandma kind of sounded like him.
Nonetheless, my father sent her a plane ticket, and my grandma went.
The first day in Hong Kong, as she and my father walked through the market, she ran into her old cook from Ohio. She said, “Oh, hi, Sam,” and shook his hand. They chatted for a minute, then parted ways, leaving my pop with his jaw on the sidewalk.
No big deal.
So when I talk about being Chinese, I don’t mean Mao, Tienanmen Square, communism, or futuristic, bright-lights-big-city Shanghai. I’m talking about how I can’t tell the bootstrap Protestant work ethic from pre-Cultural Revolution Confucianism. I’m talking about Fa Mulan and chop suey and the Wild, Wild West of the American frontier. I’m talking about…well, a little bit of Josie Tucker.