This project, like many formidable tasks, began as a casual conversation after my wife and I watched the movie ARGO in 2012. The action thriller kept us on the edges of our seats, and at the end of the theatrical rendition of the otherwise discreetly executed CIA mission, my wife suggested that I write down my tour experience during the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. I had told the story numerous times to friends and families, but had never documented the experience into words.
At age 25, I was the tour leader with a group of sixteen American tourists caught in the nationwide unrest in China. Like most twenty-five-year-olds, I was fearless and senseless. My wife reminded me that my hour-by-hour account of those five harrowing days attempting to move my tour group to safety was not only exhilarating but factual. So the seed of a writing adventure was planted. By 2015 I had put together a treatment for a project titled “Five Days in China,” detailing the 1989 exploits of an American tour group and their Chinese-American immigrant guide on the run with the Tiananmen Square incident as a backdrop. After having circulated the project among entertainment industry friends, I was offered to transform the story into a film but I would have to portray China in an exaggerated negative light which I declined. . I wanted the project to remain nonpolitical.
In 2016, a music composer friend, Mr. Guy Ayal, asked to share the treatment with an indie film producer friend of his from Tel Aviv, who, after reading the treatment, asked for a meeting to go over the possibility of formulating it into a movie script. During the brainstorming session, the world traveler asked how I, now a burger chomping Asian redneck, knew Chinese culture so well and where I gained the knowledge of Cambridge, UK, which led to the trust of a British boat captain who became important to the tour group’s survival. I peeled back layers of my American skin for the producer and exposed the FOB (fresh off the boat) immigrant boy who came to the United States in 1979 at age 15.
We talked about my mother’s decision, as a direct result of the One-China Policy, to immigrate to the United States in September of 1979 while my father was reluctant to start afresh in a foreign land at age 51. I shared our initial struggles in Hawaii where Mother worked two full-time jobs to keep the family afloat as I struggled to learn a new culture and language through high school. As the one-hour lunch extended into its second hour, we covered my winning of a four-year art scholarship from Denver University, and how I embarked on my tour guiding career the summer before college. The producer marveled at the rough draft, sharing that even as a world traveler my story rekindled his desire to hit the road again. Guy and his friend suggested that I expand “Five Days in China” into a book which would afford the audience an insight into my background and illustrate how my past experiences culminated into that one fateful moment in Guangzhou, China when my tour group’s freedom was on the line.
I’m not a writer but a story teller. “The Unlikely Yank” is a memoir that features my struggles to assimilate into American main stream and how I constantly battle my Chinese roots. The book encompasses my coming of age in Hawaii, the enlightening years in college on the mainland, and the eye-opening summer study at Cambridge University, England. The book exposes my raw wounds resulting from severe cultural clashes with my family after college when my degree in Fine Art yielded no employment prospects in Hawaii, and how I put my bilingual ability to use by falling back on tour guiding for a Chinese tour company. Over the years, the hatred and pain have subsided, yet, for the sake of the project I reopened each emotional scab and exhumed the dormant demon so I could evince honest emotions for my readers.
Despite me wanting so badly to be accepted as a “mainstream American”, a tour guide colleague once told me something that would haunt me for years to come: “You will only hold a job with a Chinese tour company because your bilingual ability has no value to real American companies.” I, The Unlikely Yank, proved him wrong.