Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pushcart Prize Nominations

We are nominating three pieces for the 2012 edition of the Pushcart Prize anthology, as follows:

  • "Discoveries" by Sandra Kohler (poetry)
  • "Eight Prayers For Cobalt-60" by Karen An-hwei Lee (poetry)
  • "Natural Order" by August Evans (short fiction)

These pieces all appeared in our Fall/Winter 2010 edition which was published earlier this week.

Congrats and best of luck to our nominees!

We are taking a one-week hiatus from the blog series for the Thanksgiving holiday and will be back next weekend with a review of Karla Linn Merrifield's chapbook The Urn.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fall/Winter Issue

If you haven't visited the mag lately, check out the new Fall/Winter issue, which is now live!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ke Huang: On Matchmaking

My mother refused the first marriage offer presented to me. She would not tell me about it until years later and there are days I wish she had consulted me before the refusal.

Overlooking the 18th floor to the city that still clings to its maritime exploration of the past, tendered from one window a hill hoarded with russet-tiled chalky buildings cloaking the crown of the São Jorge Castle and, on the other, an assortment of variegated condominiums framing the blue wavy Tagus and its white hairband Vasco da Gama Bridge.

While I swept the faux plank flooring, mother waved the mop for the watery finish. We ended our discussion of the plan to visit the house of my parents' best friends.

"You know," mother began, "Lizhen a-yi once told me that you and her Shengguo should have gotten together."

I forgot about my dust-gathering duties: "When did that happen?" The least of my doubts was questioning the veracity of her comment. Since I saw several Chinese films and TV shows where parents made the marriage arrangements for their children, my inquiry concerned why mother had left me out.

"Don't know," she answered more focused on making a smudge on the floor go away, "she mentioned once. He isn’t right for you, you're going abroad for college and he barely graduated high school."

Was mother right? Did my fate make me that different from Shengguo? Maybe he went on excursions to Paris and Rome but would not share my years of studying media and mingling with aspiring filmmakers in the two liberal American Meccas. While he stayed in Europe and dealt with the cardigan sweater trading, I went on writers' workshops where all our knitted goods were the interlacing of plots, characters and dialogue.

The marital arrangements for Lizhen a-yi and A-Zhong buobuo’s sole progeny doesn't end here. A few years after, mother would go on a business trip to China and run into a distant female cousin. Ma came back praising Lihui jiejie as if she were the Chinese Grace Kelly and introduced Lihui to Shengguo. The two had their inter-continental courtship and have been happily married for five years.

In a society that preaches women to follow the three obediences of father (before marriage), husband (when married) and son (in widowhood), I see mother's meddling in other couples as her subversions to patriarchy. Like an executive producer of a dating reality show, her role as matchmaker gives her carte blanche to access the life of a family, interviewing immediate relatives, arranging a meet of the two young contestants and waiting for the season to unfold. Granted mother doesn't get the paycheck of a Mike Fleiss but the set of bed linens she receives every time her matches end in marriage must have a sentimental value equivalent to the pay of any producer of a hit ABC show.

Mother's "dating show" seasons have had a mixed success. Her first couple, which she matched when we still lived in China, had a rather gruesome end. The newly married husband lost control of his bike while on a commute and plunged down a river. According to mother, when the corpse was hoisted out, the swollen body still clutched on to the bike. Personally, I would have taken the tragedy as a sign that I am no matchmaker material but not mother, she has introduced four times more couples than the times she has birthed children.

Ma doesn't even sound that different from TV executives I have heard speak at entertainment industry seminars and panel discussions. If they had a credit in hit shows, they were more than willing to admit they contributed for the success, but when a program flops, they will be the first to voice out they were not to blame. Mother will tell you how many of her matchees have evolved in blissful marriages and produced healthy children but most likely omit the river-bike misfortune.

Despite being aware of her limitations, I was always convinced that her method was for me. Maybe mother did stop my first arrangement but she could know a single man in her social network that could be a suitable prospective husband.

"You want a what?" A good American friend of mine blurted out. Elise was driving us down the leafy section of Santa Monica Boulevard for bar-hopping on the neon-blinking Sunset Strip.

"An arranged marriage," I answered, surprised that Elise and I had never addressed the topic before.

"What if you don't love him and end up miserable?"

"You're talking about forced marriage, an arranged marriage is when a man and a woman are introduced by someone else but have the choice to decide if they want to get married."

"That’s matchmaking! Your mother is a matchmaker," Elise continued while turning down her car radio, "still, I would try finding someone I love myself before I took on matchmaking."

“That’ll save you from buying a set of bedsheets for the matchmaker.” I tried to joke while hiding what really puzzled me. Could Elise be right? Just because mother could help me find a man didn't exclude me from trying other ways. For six months, I gave dating a try. It included the more "traditional" ways like flirting at Halloween parties, signing-up for a couple of online sites, cultural events for Chinese UCLA grad students and even the more unorthodox methods such as speed dating and going out with someone who picked me up at the Big Blue Bus stop. 

For the benefit of those who don't take the public transport in Los Angeles, let me apprise you that there is a tacit hierarchy for the omnibus network. I would have never spoken to a man while riding an orange or red Metro bus but the lime-colored Culver City and royal blue Santa Monica vehicles are in another category. Since CCB and BBB cover the suburban and beach residential areas, their riders are less likely to have a putrid smell and more prone to wear unsoiled attire than the counterparts of the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 

Another excuse why I trusted Mr. BBB was that he was a fellow UCLA grad student with Israeli parents but raised in South Africa. My maternal chromosome envisioned that if we were to pursue a relationship, it could mean that our combined international backgrounds would birth children who could call homes the regions of North America, Western Europe, Subsaharan Africa, The Levant and East Asia. But like the man who preceded and the one who succeeded him, Triple B decided that we should just be friends. I don’t mean to bitch. These males had a good reason to fear a serious relationship. In a town where they can play with voluptuous aspiring actresses and Playmates wanna-bes, a flat-chested vegan creative writing MFA-candidate whose only asset is her adequate legs doesn't make her premier girlfriend material. Fall quarter ended, holiday lights fettered L.A. vegetation and I gave my romance adventures a rest to return to Portugal to my Christmas-and-Hanukkah-less jia.

I dug through my leather-less closet and picked out items that could be donated to the collection box at the Buddhist association to which mother belonged. Her soft voice yelled out: "Come here, quick!"

Mother had told me that she would call me once she got connected to a female cousin from Shanghai to discuss my plan to return to China once my American student visa terminated.

I sped down the chilly hall, advancing past the alcove shimmering crimson and golden Buddha figurines; stepped into ma and ba's room and plunked on the chair beside her. We faced a humming desktop computer and an E.T.-shaped webcam. On the left corner of the screen, the image of Cousin Gulan's oval face framed by an ebony bob cut fluttered, her eyes casting down as she could only be avoiding her webcam to watch the screen.

We exchanged pleasantries, conferred about my living arrangements if I were to settle in Shanghai and cut into the tofu meat of the conversation.

"A friend from my office. Now he’s back to school for a Ph.D. in engineering... The only thing is that you’ll tell me he’s too old."

"He is too old," mother interjected as she adjusted her dewy green beaded jade necklace.

You've been talking through this without telling me? I parried my annoyance and asked instead: "Is he over 30?"

"Thirty-two," cousin nodded. The remote connection mismatched her voice to her image.

"But he's quiet," mother tapped my forearm, "listen to your cousin, she knows what she's talking about."

"He has great temper," cousin added and I couldn’t help to imagine that she reminded me of a pirated poorly-dubbed novela.

"You don't need to worry about me now."

Mother cut in: "You think this is worrying? You can’t have deadlines for these things. When you get to Shanghai, it's not like there’ll be men lined up after to marry you."

My head continued to cogitate and heard words pour out of my mouth: "With the time I have left from my visa, I'm going to apply for a Ph.D. in America."

"You're not coming home to teach English?" Cousin's flickering screen image frowned.

"It could be a good idea," mother said and then took a sip from her clay-textured tea mug, "then if she wants to go back home to teach, she’ll be qualified for universities."

I decided not to tell them that what mainly swayed me to stay in America for a handful more years was that I was hooked with the idea of finding love; of spending time with someone not because a matchmaker said we were suitable but because we were lucky to have found each other. Maybe L.A. wasn't the place to meet a serious male but I would move to a small college town and give it another try. Most single women snicker when I tell them that I realized that being in L.A., it's easier to get accepted into a doctorate program than meeting a future husband. A less of a laughing matter was that I was seduced by the American ways of coming across a beau that isn’t just an amenable partner. My plan would, as the Chinese expression goes, "one arrow double vultures;" by completing research in an area of interest while questing for romance on the side.

Cousin and mother were not to blame for the likelihood of their misunderstanding me. If etymological roots can suggest the origin of an idea, then it is revealing that the term "romance" in Mandarin is lanman, a close transliteration of the Latin word. As much as we Chinese pride ourselves for our five-millennia-long history, the idea of romantic love is most likely an European import. While devotion and duty for families is customary in our culture, the feeling that moves St. Valentine's Day may come from the "exotic" Western world, an idea that had lured me.

As a Portuguese of Chinese decent, Ke Huang learned most of her English from watching Hollywood movies.  She has a B.S. from Syracuse and MFA in screenwriting from UCLA.  Her writing consists of comedy, drama and horror stories about ethnic experiences.