The Random Writings of Rachel

Best Chinese Movies

Even if you don't normally watch films in Chinese, here are some films that I think are worth a watch even if you have absolutely no interest in the language. Several of them tell beautiful, heart-breaking stories full of love. Others are more quirky and unexpected, and all give little glimpses of Chinese culture.

You'll note, sometimes I compare the Chinese film I'm describing to a Western film--this is not at all to say that is where the film was inspired from, or anything of the sort. Each of these are their own unique creations. However, much of my blog audience is probably a little unfamiliar with East Asian films, and I wanted to give them something relatable as a way of describing the film, so that hopefully they are a little more willing to step out of the comfort zone of English films and try a Chinese movie.

1. Coming Home

A daughter who betrays her own father after he escaped from prison during the Cultural Revolution. A wife who loves her husband desperately but suffers mental trauma and some sort of dementia--so that when he finally returns to her, she cannot recognize him as the husband she loves. Vaguely reminiscent of The Notebook, but since I utterly detest The Notebook, I'd have to say this one is much better.

2. To Live

This one is kind of a no-brainer as far as a Chinese movie recommendation, as it's extremely well-known, directed by Zhang YiMou. Takes place over many years, beginning a few decades before the Cultural Revolution and following a family through several decades

3. A World Without Thieves

This is a can't-look-away film about a simple country boy on his way home, carrying a lot of cash from the job he's worked at for years. He attracts the attention of two separate groups of thieves--one of the professional thieves feels sympathy for him and decides to protect him and his money at any cost. There's so much going on and you have no idea how the movie will end--I'll just tell you that the ending is one that would surprise pretty much any Western viewer. Chinese movies are MUCH less predictable than American movies in my experience, and it's probably just because of different expectations.

4. The Road Home

A romance, in which a son, who has returned home on the occasion of his father's death, tells his parents' love story, which has become the stuff of legend.

5. Finding Mr. Right

A 'romantic comedy' with the most interesting premise: a pregnant Chinese woman comes to the USA to give birth, staying in a home that exists for the purpose of housing Chinese women until their babies are born and receive their USA citizenship. This premise is based on the real-life phenomenon of some unmarried Chinese women who want to have their babies in America--something that I didn't know happened until I watched the film.

6. Shaolin Soccer

Just plain funny underdog sports movie. Kind of like something along the lines of The Mighty Ducks, only with martial arts, soccer, and a totally different feel from a sports movie in the USA.

7. Wolf Totem

Also taking place during the Cultural Revolution--a city boy is sent to the northwest to live with a nomadic tribe. He makes friends with a wolf, and there's a lot of drama, and he does some very silly things because he doesn't really know how to be a nomad in a frozen world. I was fascinated with this because it gave a good glimpse of a part of China that is less represented than the more well-known southern and northern big cities.

When Your Sister's Getting Married

My sister got engaged in August. It's a pretty big deal for the family.

One of the cool things about starting off with an abnormally large number of siblings is that you're bound to end up with an abnormally large number of siblings-in-law and odds are you'll like at least a large percentage of them, which expands the number of people 'on your team', so to speak. Yes, from a purely selfish perspective, it's good for you when your siblings get married to awesome people. It's also good for them.

But what exactly are you supposed to do when your little sister announces her engagement and plans to wed in the next year? I've never been in this situation before. I'm the only married one among my siblings. How did they all feel when I announced Angel's entry into our family? What did they do about it? I can't really remember how I felt, let alone how they did, that year was kind of a blur for me.

So, how should you respond to this joyous news?

1. Successfully resist the urge to tell anyone you're not supposed to tell until the engagement news is made public. I'm giving myself a pat on the back for this one. I hate keeping secrets, it's just the worst, but people deserve the chance to share their own good news in their own good time, so don't spill when you've been ordered not to.

2. Don't compare: fiances, rings, engagement timelines, wedding budgets, wedding dresses, wedding day gorgeousness. Realistically, she's definitely going to "win" on some points and you're going to "win" on others and everybody will be left feeling awkward and not completely happy if you and others are busy comparing. Complete happiness, people!! Truthfully, you wouldn't want to be married to anyone else, so it doesn't matter if your sis's ring is bigger or her dress is prettier or her guy is taller. None of those '-ers' add up to make the guy you're head over heels for, anyway.

3. Remember that uniqueness is what makes everything awesome. Err on the side of support rather than critique. Odds are, the bride is going to get enough critique from family members belonging to previous generations when it comes to her wedding planning. Times have changed, and they don't always approve of the changes. As long as she's not truly planning something unsafe, unkind, or illegal, you, being a sibling and belonging to the same generation, should probably support it.

4. Don't speak overly negatively about marriage. In the season of being engaged, it's very advisable for your sister to seek premarital counseling, to read some marriage prep books, and to talk to people she trusts about concerns that she might have, and to think through whether she's ready for the commitment. What she doesn't need is another, more experienced, wife constantly winking and joking about what a drag husbands are, and how all the fun in life is before marriage. If you actually believe that, go get some marriage counseling, but if you don't, and you're just joking around and trying to freak her out, stop. Not helpful.

5. Celebrate her! If you're there--host a bridal shower. Make shopping for wedding decor fun and go out for lunch in between wedding errands. I'm not around for my sister, but I'm already developing schemes for a virtual bridal shower because it would be a shame to let my epic party-planning skills go to waste just because I don't live in the same country. Write her cute letters, make her a wedding day countdown, send her a surprise wedding gift. Remember her favorites--colors, movies, songs, hobbies--and find ways to tie them into your celebration of this exciting change in her life.

6. Offer your help--if you can and if you want to. Don't offer to help send out invitations or DIY flower arrangements if you're busy and are going to resent spending time on a project for her event. Don't offer to do something and then not to it, or do a slapdash job of it. Do offer if you are skilled in some area, have the time, and want to make life a little easier on her. I love DIYs and basically everything to do with getting ready for an event, but I'll be content with helping digitally from a distance since I'm not there.


How have you found practical ways to show your love and support when your sibling announces that they're getting married? After June, we'll only have 5 more rounds of this to go in my family...

A Practical Wife

Now, that's not something I could call myself in most areas of life. I have an artist's personality--complete with strong streaks of impracticality--particularly in the areas of fashion, hobbies, hair color, and preferred foods.

But, when it comes to love and romance, I'm quite practical.

My sisters noticed a pretty vase full of flowers on my table this past weekend, and wanted to know why Angel gave me flowers. The story of how I got them is characteristic of our relationship--I was a bit mad at him for something he did, and he knew I wasn't too happy, and that he'd been a little thoughtless. He was at the grocery store, and I knew I'd be completely over it if he brought me back a little present from the store--but I also knew he'd never think of that simple solution, a quick, cheap, "I'm sorry" gift. So I texted him, "Hey, I suggest you bring me home a present from the store." He walked in the door an hour later with grocery store flowers, and all was forgiven.

Later, I asked him whether he would have thought of the idea of buying flowers if I hadn't texted him, and he said, "No, but that was a great idea! Thanks!"

When left to his own devices, Angel does stuff like buy me a rubber band ball for our first Christmas together (3 weeks after we got married). Or...wrap up a bunch of stuff I already own and give it to me for my 21st birthday.

If I weren't quite so practical, things like that would frustrate me. In fact, they did frustrate me at the moment, but the fact that he is not naturally good at buying presents is not something I'm going to let thwart me. I am very clear now with what I would like to receive for birthdays and special occasions--for this past birthday, I offered the idea of going to Japan to celebrate both of our birthdays and he thought it was a great idea, so I planned the birthday trip myself.

I could have waited in restless anticipation to see what kind of very special plan Angel would have come up with for my 25th birthday, but to do so would have been cruel, setting myself up for disappointment and him up for failure. Recognizing strengths--that between us, I'm the best at planning and surprising and celebrating and knowing what fun adventures I'd like to have in life--and acting on it, sets us both up for success and a happy marriage.

At various times, I've given him a list of the things I like, so that if he's ever inspired to buy me something or plan something fun, he has some ideas and doesn't have to start from scratch.

For us, the open relationship where I tell him when I want apology flowers and what he ought to buy for my birthday and ask him if he could plan an anniversary getaway every other year--it works well. The celebratory wife gets all the celebrations she wants and doesn't pout because he doesn't think of it himself, while the un-romantic husband doesn't struggle trying to interpret hints or clues--he has a list in his wallet of all of his lady's favorite things.

I like Angel just the way he is. Romantic, thoughtful people might not make the best prank-pulling partners. They might not name their pets Morphine and Amoxicillin. They might not give me nearly so many laughs at all the odd, forgetful, or purely random things they say, like asking complete strangers whether or not they were breastfed as an infant. Actually, I'm pretty sure a genuinely thoughtful person would NEVER ask that. He's not very thoughtful, and I like him that way--but I make sure I give him the tools he needs to help him be thoughtful when he needs to be.

Ode to Ramen

For a good chunk of my life, I've had a natural aversion to most 'junk foods' or 'fast foods'. I don't like McDonald's or KFC or Burger King, I don't like cake, I don't like pie, I don't like bacon, I don't like candy bars. I like original flavor potato chips but not any other flavors. I don't like french fries unless they are homemade. And I don't like ramen.

At least, I didn't like ramen until I went to Japan in July.

And, obviously, happened to fall in love with real ramen there. I swear, I'd go back for the ramen alone.

Since returning from Japan, I've been on a quest to find Japanese ramen restaurants here in Malaysia. I went to one in KL that was quite good, and we've heard rumors of a very authentic place in our hometown here, and are planning to try that one out soon.

In the absence of amazing ramen restaurants, I've even been finding myself making instant ramen for the occasional meal. I was the college student who ate homemade sandwiches or salads, not instant ramen. The instant ramen isn't anywhere near as good, as what I had in Japan, but the fact that I'm eating it, and even craving it, after having never on-purpose eaten instant ramen for as long as I can remember...that's pretty weird.

I've discovered my perfect recipe for a beefed-up, healthified instant ramen which still isn't healthy, but makes the anti-junk-food advocate inside me a little happier. This is how I make mine, with my favorite variety of instant ramen (a spicy flavor):

1) Shred a whole carrot into the pot.
2) Add a couple chopped leaves of some green leafy veggie (bok choy, kailan, etc)
3) Add a spoonful of minced garlic and a couple stalks of chopped green onion.
4) Add in the water, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the ramen's flavoring packet, and bring to a boil.
5) Add noodles.
6) Drop in an egg.
7) Stir, and remove from heat when noodles are done.

We all have our weaknesses. I thought my only major junk food weakness was original flavor potato chips with french onion dip. Now I've discovered a new one...

What junk food is your biggest weakness?

On the Subject of Baby Names

My 9-year-old sister Sarah asked me, while I was innocently scrolling through instagram, "What's your favorite movie character?"

I answered, "Captain Jack Sparrow."

She said, "Okay, then, Jack." She continued, "What's your favorite color?"

I answered, "Purple, like my hair."

She said, "Purple Jack. Hmmm...well, what's your favorite flower?"

I answered, "Black Roses."

She said, "Black Jack. Okay, that could work."

I finally asked, "What is going on here?"

She answered, "I heard that when people think about what to name their kids, they think about their favorite movie or book character, their favorite color, and their favorite flower, and put names together from that." a result of that very scientific approach, my kid is going to be named Black Jack or, possibly, Black Purple Jack, but that doesn't sound nearly as cool.

MaryGrace joined the conversation by saying, "I've always thought it would be fun to name my kids after flowers and plants: like Rose, Lily, Violet..."

Sarah interjected, "Chrysanthemum!"

Rachel, "Hyacinth! Dillweed! Spruce! Lady's Slippers! Hibiscus! Snapdragon!"

MaryGrace, "Uhhh...guys...not every name of of plant or flower, okay..."

Baby's Breath! Pansy! Fir! Thistle! Pitcher Plant!

Count the next generation blessed that we're not given the task of naming anyone right at this particular moment in time. Of course, don't be surprised if, ten years down the road, Black Jack is happily playing with his baby cousin Chrysanthemum.

P.S. I named my brother, Isaac, when I was 3 years old. My parents couldn't come up with a name, I piped up, "How about Isaac *middle name*?" and thus altered the course of his life.

So....I want to know what your kid will be named, using the favorite character, favorite color, and favorite flower approach. Seriously! Do it! And I dare you to get a cooler name than Black Jack.