The Yans – A Score & Ten

THIS PAST JUNE, my parents celebrated their 30th anniversary. I haven’t given them many gifts in the past, since they live simply and are content. But this year was something special, and I knew this year had to be different.

I wasn’t sure what to get them at first, but then it dawned on me. Inside my parents’ house sits a picture frame with a family portrait that we took at Sears about 13 years ago. Aside from random pictures in wedding photo booths, we hadn’t taken many pictures together since. Why not take new family portraits? I thought it’d be a nice way to commemorate their anniversary, so I pitched the idea to my sister Cat.

As it turned out, Cat was planning on flying back to LA on a weekend in late June after a business trip to Seattle. She was planning on surprising my parents. And, well, she did. The next morning, after I had dropped her off late the previous night, Cat told me that Mom had awakened from her sleep only to see a dark figure in the hall. It took her nearly a minute–and only after my sister chuckled and said “Hi Mom”–to realize that it was my sister. Cat said it was like she had seen a ghost. Mom would later explain, “No, I just thought your brother had brought home a girl.” I chuckled when I heard the story; I didn’t know what was more believable.

I called my good friend Steve to see if he could set up an impromptu shoot for our family. I had initially tagged him to do it, but he had planned on heading up to SF that weekend. Fortunately for us, his trip got canceled last minute, and so it worked out. I told my parents to bring out their Sunday’s finest as we were celebrating their anniversary with a photo shoot in Chino. Mom was delighted. She said it was the perfect gift as she had also been thinking about updating our family portrait. God has a funny way of working things out.

Pops

My pops said that back in the day he used to look like Chow Yun Fat. I replied that he still does, but with a bit more emphasis on the FAT. We swap a lot of jokes between us–and advice about ladies, too–but when it comes down to it I love this man. I didn’t agree with some of his decisions when I was younger, but I’ve come to a better understanding as an adult. Throughout the years, he’s dropped a lot of nuggets about being street smart, dealing with hardships and how to man up. I can say that as we’ve grown older, we’ve arrived at a place of mutual respect and appreciation.

“Remember son, if all else fails, marry a rich girl.” Much respect, Pops.

Mama

Whenever my dad was gone, working late nights at the liquor store out in South Central, Mama would rule the house with a stick and spatula. She’d be the one to discipline me with that wooden, feathered stick, only to serve me a hot bowl of rice and veggies moments later. I thank her for that. Love isn’t letting stuff slide. It’s saying I care about you enough for you to learn the hard way now, rather than the harder way later.

Of all the people in my life, I don’t think I’ve ever known a more considerate and selfless person. It’s not rare for her to go out of her way, even to her own inconvenience, to ensure friends and family are taken care of. When my friends used to come over during the school year she’d often cook up a storm of ribs, shrimp, fish, and “green sticks.” Her cooking was legendary in my circle, and she might very well have been responsible for half my friendships.

Mama, I’d sing a song for ya but I think Tupac already did it well: “There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand–you are appreciated.”

Sister

One day back in high school, a group of friends ran up to me all giddy during lunch. They told me they had spotted a girl who looked just like me, except with long hair. “Yeah, we followed her around and called her Martina!” I asked these fools if they were talking about my sister, to which they replied in disbelief: “What! You have a sister?!” One of those fools happened to be our photographer Steve. How fitting.

As you can see, a decade has passed and my sister has more than blossomed into her own. She’s cool, hip and beautiful without trying. At present she’s carving her own niche out in the bright lights of New York. I haven’t been a good brother; I don’t call or pray for her as much as I should, but I love her and am proud of her all the same. Sometimes when my friend Chris and I are hanging out, we’d bring up the topic of our sisters and how much cooler they are than us. Yep, I’d say, she’s one incredibly cool cat.

The Happy Couple

This is probably one of my favorites in the bunch. It was a candid moment, after my pops said something funny (both gross and endearing) and they were busting up. I like it not just because it’s candid but because it captures what I believe is an honest glimpse at their marriage. They’re not perfect by any means and they’ve had their share of struggles, but in the end they learned how to give and take and make each other happy. She helps him put his life in order, and he knows how to make her laugh and smile. They share a lot of great memories, but they don’t come without sacrifice, compromise and commitment. Love takes work.

That’s my family

My sister and I often talk about how blessed we are to have such a close family–parents and cousins and aunts and uncles to walk with together in this journey. Listening to my sister talk about how much she misses us, especially all the milestones and moments, reminds me to not take the people whom I love for granted. True, some people are separated by distances and time zones, but it’d be a real shame if it is our heart that keeps them away.

I don’t know how many days I’ve spent chasing or toiling for things that don’t matter. There’s always more money to make, more achievements to reach, more demands on your life. But in the quiet moments, when I reflect on moments like these, it becomes clear as gold: loving God and loving people. I can stake my life on these two things and it will not be a wasted life.

Thanks for reading!

Raise Dem Glasses

My cousin Galvin got hitched this past weekend… (Congrats to him and his lovely bride Alicia!) The ceremony was held outdoors on a hill and the reception was inside the fine banquet hall at the Diamond Bar Center. It was a gorgeous site.

They had also rented a photo booth, nowadays a popular staple at weddings. Here is the madness that ensued (because of the “ghetto” nature of these pictures, I have requested my good friend and rapper T.I. to write special guest captions):

Yo this be yo stand-up guy T.I. fillin’ in for mah boi Ma-in. First picture check it. Dis crazy mess right herre be Marty Mar’s couz Karen (aka Da Killah) commin’ from NY to represent. Special shout-out to Queens, Eastside! Werd. She holdin’ it down, cuttin’ loose on da goose. Pops be feelin’ on da JD. CY special guest appearance at da end, ya heard??

We be talkin’ bout dem Bonnie n’ Clyde in dis right hurr. Ma-in and his partna-in-crime K be keepin’ it real. Girl know how to conversate n’ got dem moves on tha dance flo. Girl got sum mad game too–a chick even asked fo her digits! She da GOAT–greatest of all time–plus one.

Awww naah….ya’ll ain’t ready fo dis one mang. We talkin’ bout some family biznazz. We got Ma-in, CY, Pops, and Mama Yan her bad self! Look at Pops wit da blond wig tryin’ to be Lil Kim or somethin’…but instead he be lookin’ like B.I.G. wit his quadruple chins n’ all (cop dat last frame). Dem dollar signs screamin’ bout dat paper trail! Check dat… Ain’t nuttin’ but luv like fam man… YEAeAAEHHH OKKKKAYYYYY! (Mah bad folks, Lil Jon dun took my mic for a sec, playa be trippin’…)

*****

Yup…so that was my weekend in a nutshell. In all seriousness, I am blessed to have these wonderful people around me and I am super glad to welcome Alicia to the family!

Seniors Appreciation Night

It was a weekend I will not soon forget. Just the previous night, I was out with a bunch of twenty- and thirtysomethings celebrating my cousin’s bachelor party. Then Saturday afternoon rolled around, much sooner than I would have liked, and I had to prepare to serve senior citizens. My day and night could not have been more different.

I had only a few hours of sleep before my alarm went off, telling me to get up. A part of wanted to stay in bed, but I really had no say in the matter. I had to re-up my strength to prepare for that special day, for it was a day that would feature a full-blown event to celebrate the wonderful and ever-young grandpas and grandmas of our church. No matter how tired my body was or would be, my spirit would be revitalized at just the thought of the privilege I had to serve this amazing group of people, a group that holds a special place in my heart.

A couple from our church, Drawlon and Daisy, hosted the event at their home. They, along with several adult volunteers, would prepare everything from the food to the decorations to even the surprise entertainment of the night (hula dancers!). I would be simply assisting with whatever it was that they needed. That day, several of the adults ran around to cook, coordinate, decorate, serve, and bless the twenty or so seniors that appeared before us.

From an outsiders’ perspective, it is easy to conclude that the work that went into the event paid off. The food was spectacular–it was like something straight out of Top Chef–the games and entertainment were top-notch, and the fellowship was meaningful. And I could spend hours just writing on the details of those things alone.

But it ultimately wasn’t about the show. It was about seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing the laughter come from people who have learned to appreciate every second, every breath of life. It was about experiencing the joy of expressing to them their value and worth as individuals and what significance and meaning they add to our world.

The seniors’ impact can be traced to the very origins of Lifesong Community Church. When I first joined the church about five years ago, the seniors made up about half of our church. It was them and a bunch of young families. There were no young singles, no one my age. Though I was initially discouraged, I stuck it through because I felt it was my place. It didn’t take long for me to learn each and every senior by name. Auntie Kai. Auntie Mae. Uncle Ken. Carole, Earl, Hach, Wanda, Linda, and Cherry. They would welcome me every week with warm and genuine smiles. They would ask me if I could use some prayer. And each time they asked, I knew they meant it.

It’s funny when I hear that some of these seniors feel and think they are useless. Sure, they might feel less energetic and experience more aches and pains. But these are also the same people who would be folding the programs, putting up chairs, setting up the snack table, and greeting church newcomers. They tell me they are useless and I tell them that Lifesong would not be what it is today without them–the seniors are the backbone of our church.

I’m glad I didn’t go anywhere else. I’m glad I didn’t bail on those days when the loneliness of my journey started to feel overwhelming. Because this church is about family. And family isn’t just all young couples or adults. It includes the crying babies and crazy uncles and grandpas, too. Family means you get to grow and learn to love one another. And you stick together, through both the good and the bad.

Now, we have about more than a dozen young singles at our church. Not a lot compared to some churches, but it’s still something. Because I started out on my own, I’ve learn to appreciate each one of them. The best part about not having them as my crutch in the beginning? I got to really know my seniors.

And their stories are amazing, more than words can say.

Bill and May

I wasn’t in a particularly good mood that evening. I don’t remember what it was exactly, just that being back at my parents’ house was getting to me. I am independent and fully capable of being on my own, but I don’t think they got the memo.

I sat in my room, trying to cool off. I was rummaging through a desk drawer when I stumbled upon an old collection of photos. I shuffled through the pile, until I landed on a nugget. I examined it for minutes. Then I just sat there, smiling.

Before I knew it I had forgotten why I was even bothered at all.

*****

This is not my mom and dad. I am familiar with those characters, but they don’t exist here. This picture tells me a different story.

Instead, I am met with the handsome faces of two wide-eyed adults. Bill and May were madly in love. Their wedding brought them to a backyard pool. I suppose love has led many a fool to sillier places. It doesn’t matter where they are, only that they belong to each other. The bride is beautiful–the groom, proud, and perhaps in quiet disbelief. “She really is mine.” Young, innocent. Their smiles are fixed with unbridled joy. This is the day that will mark another beginning.

Mind you, they had a past. Jie Mei Tong was a brilliant student, at the top of her class. Her father was a doctor, her mother an accountant at the nearby hospital. Man Piu Yan was a headstrong, blue-collar hustler surviving the streets. His father made a living in photography, back when cameras were boxes that stood on wooden legs. They were getting by in life; I suppose they weren’t too different from you and me.

Then the Communists came. They came to oppress them, erase them–turn them into another number. The government sought to take away their right to have a say for themselves. This was the future in Communist China. Become puppets for rice or march to the beat of your own requiem? Slavery was not an option. Freedom wasn’t everything–it was the only thing.

Hello America.

Now it is “Bill” and “May.” Individuals that came from another part of the world, thousands of miles away. Somehow they met, somewhere in the middle, in the divine compromise of the Big Apple. To some, New York is just another dot on a map. But this is where they met and fell in love. To them it means the world.

*****

And now it’s got me thinking. Maybe this is the story I have missed. I am quite familiar with the other story, the one about nagging parents. But this story reminds me that before acting as parents, they were husband and wife. And before living as husband and wife, they were beautiful young adults full of promise and hope. This was their script before Mom and Dad replaced them.

Years would pass and the children grow up. Did my sister and I belittle their love? Are we just two selfish little monsters, as babes demanding their constant attention to now wanting them out of our hair as grown-ups? When I get frustrated or impatient with them, I tell myself to remember their story. We are not perfect, but I hope we have made their sacrifice worth it.

Wrinkles now trace the tracks of their smiles. I wonder how would they react if they saw this picture. Would it speak of irony or of a promise fulfilled? After twenty-seven years and counting, I would like to think the latter.

Maybe I won’t ever understand or appreciate this, living and growing up in America. But if Freedom is the trophy, Love makes for one hell of a consolation prize.

*****

Pictures have the power to speak truth into your life. Sometimes they can even breathe life back into your years, and remind you how precious is the time you’ve been given. In those moments, when you listen close enough, they whisper, not to say that you should be counting your minutes, but to make every one of your minutes count.

Here I am met with the handsome faces of two wide-eyed adults. Bill and May were crazy in love. Their wedding brought them to a backyard pool. I suppose love has led many a fool to sillier places. It doesn’t matter where they are, only that they belong to each other. The bride is beautiful–the groom, proud, and perhaps in quiet disbelief. “She really is mine.” Young, innocent. Their smiles are fixed with unbridled joy. This is the day that will mark another beginning.

Christmas Special 2010

Earlier tonight we celebrated Christmas at my parents’ house. It is always a fun time of gathering families together to stuff our faces and play some exciting games. Here are some pictures to help recap our holiday affair:

Mity, our main chef for the evening.

This is my brother (pretty much) cooking yet another fabulous holiday meal. He has raised the bar yet again, this time including an awesome clam dish made with white wine.

Close-up of the meal.

My sister also came back from New York with a few tricks up her sleeve. She made a fantastic goat cheese and mushroom tart, along with a mix of roasted veggies.

Of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without engaging our competitive juices in a couple of board games. The first game featured a sibling rivalry game, in which three pairs (brother-sister) went at each other to determine who was greatest. It was interesting to see how each pair communicated (or in some cases, didn’t). Not to toot our horn or anything, but the Yans were victorious (probably more a credit to my sister than anything).

Nothing like a shady game of Settlers!

The second game was a house favorite, Settlers of Catan, with a bunch of friends from Rowland. It was the craziest game I’ve played in awhile since we tried stopping two players from winning by all means possible.

Ready to rock in style for 2011.

Here I am showing off the two coolest gifts I received this Christmas. My very first Kobe Bryant jersey and a specially-designed one-of-a-kind sweater from New York. Two special gifts from two very special people in my life. You know who you are–thank you!

Indeed, I am thankful for all the blessings in my life. But it is easy to lose sight of what I’ve been given and forget the one from whom all blessings come. During this season, I’ve been reminded about how Jesus is the reason for all of this, and that the reason for Jesus is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Let us not forget to thank and treasure the greatest gift of all–Jesus Christ who is Lord and Savior.

Bundle of Boy

Hello World!

Congrats to my cousins, Tim and Marria, on the delivery of their first baby boy. Brandon came into the world on Saturday, weighing in at about 6 lbs and something-something ounces.

We are all excited to welcome him into the family, and we look forward to being the uncles and aunts that will spoil him with copious amounts of toys and love.