a brief history of tong

  Me And My Potato  

Still wrestling with the local culture, Richard Tong must now overcome a litany of customs, spectacular misconceptions and his own blinding ignorance in his quest to procreate.

The following excerpts are from Me And My Potato:


It's not only friends who voice concern over our plans to raise a family. And question our suitability for parenthood, from a fiscal point of view. Yling's estranged father, Ba-ba, expresses his thoughts on the matter. Metaphorically speaking. Or not speaking, as is his preference.

I've met Ba-ba on at least a dozen occasions. We've exchanged, on average, two words each time.


Sometimes we dispense with the formalities. When there simply isn't time for all the idle chit-chat. We cut straight to the chase. And raise our eyebrows knowingly at each other.

Yum Cha on Sunday, for example. Between duck tongues and chicken feet, Ba-ba reaches into his pocket. Then extends his hand to me. In it is a string of small glass marbles. Each one is half clear and half a sort of cloudy greyish purplish colour.

I've seen a growing number of people wearing variations on this type of thing. Usually it's a fashion statement peculiar to folks of a certain demographic. Old people. Taxi drivers. Except they're usually a smokey gold colour. The marble bracelets, that is, not the old people and taxi drivers who wear them. I assumed it was some kind of Buddhist thing. Don't ask me why. Sometimes the brain just leaps to conclusions. They look kind of Buddhisty. I hadn't seen the purple haze version before though.

Purple Haze was in my brain

Lately things don't seem the same

I am, of course, most grateful to Ba-ba (and Hendrix). I'm just not 100% sure what for.

"Oh. Thanks. It's not even my birthday. I was, er, going to get some of these..."

This considerably raises the bar on the quantity and quality of our parley. Sends the needle on the conversation-o-meter into the red. Dials our dialogue up to eleven.

Clearly taken aback by this sudden deluge of diatribe, and my command of the language, he just smiles in return. And pours me a cup of tea.

Is there no end to his generosity?

Once upon a time, Ba-ba was an English Professor. At a Mainland university. A man of letters, some might say. Some, although probably not him. A man of letters he may be, but he's a man of few words. Or, in my case, a man of two words.

Now, with this spherical gesture, I get a feeling he's said something quite profound. If only I knew what that might be. I look to Yling for guidance, as is my habit in times of confusion. She indicates that I should put it on my wrist.

Now, with this spherical gesture, I get a feeling he's said something quite profound. If only I knew what that might be. I look to Yling for guidance, as is my habit in times of confusion. She indicates that I should put it on my wrist.

"No. Not that one. The other one. On left."

These crystals, she explains, are what some in The West might call a Good Luck Bracelet. Or Austin Powers would call mojo.

"Mojo, Fei-fei?"

"Mojo. It's like my thing. My magic power. My essence. A spell I cast over you. My, er, luck."

"Okay. Mojo then."

Gold mojo, as worn by mature folks and taxi drivers, relates to fortune and wealth. Probably not something Buddhists would have much of an interest in. And, as I don't have any money, there isn't much that particular colour of mojo can do for me either. Pink ones are for love and romance. Obviously I don't need any help in that department. Current physical evidence proclaims me to clearly be a sex machine with all the chicks. Well, at least with one. Still, I am a complicated man, that no one understands, but my woman. Right on.

Black is the mojo of negative energy. Smokey quartz, the mojo of clear thinking. Clear quartz, the mojo of smokey thinking. And brown is the new black. There's also a myriad of mojistic combinations that, if you're wise in The Ways, you can harness to improve any and every aspect of your life.

Purple haze is career mojo. And it wields an indefinable power over all things work related. This, undoubtedly, would be a good thing. If I had one. A career, that is. Or even a job. And maybe that's the point. Maybe Ba-ba is worried for the future of his daughter and granddaughter. Has doubts as to my ability to provide for them. He knows I've been working, and earning, well below capacity for a couple of years. Fifteen hours a week at an ad agency was it for me. Partly by choice. And partly because the market wasn’t exactly booming either. Maybe it's time to change all that.

Maybe Ba-ba thinks I need to get a full-time job. Maybe he's of the opinion that I also need all the help I can get. Professional, paranormal or otherwise. Maybe the mojo marbles will deliver.

They do.

Within two weeks I pitch and land a few new accounts. The Agency brings me in full-time. My income heads north. Quadruples.

Actin' funny but I don't know why
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky
Say what you will, but those stones have some major cajones.


Everyone is settling into their new routines in this unsettling first week. And it's a good thing that traditional lore forbids the shedding of tears too.

"Make eyes sick when older if I cry now, Gai-gai."

You've actually got to keep an eye on all your emotions. Especially mothers. Anger injures the liver. Joy affects the heart, and not always in a good way. Like, if you're too happy, your heart will burst. But everyone knows that. Worry can harm the spleen. Anxiety, your lungs. And a fright hits the kidneys right in the solar plexus.

Fortunately the no-crying mandate does not apply to me. And there's always a lighter moment lurking in the darkest of times.

The Caesarian is made to look like a relatively swift and simple process. You have to remember, however, that it's still a major operation. Recovery is going to take a little longer than five or six days. Whatever you're eating. Catfish, coca leaves or kryptonite.

When Yling's not feeding she's pumping. Expressing milk. But every now and then she needs to find an hour or so to get some sleep.

This is one of those times.

It's about three in the morning. Big Nose has risen. I've grabbed a bottle of milk from the fridge. Fed the monster. And am putting her back to bed. Yling stirs. Sort of. She turns over. And lets one rip. That is, she breaks wind. A little sheet-raiser. Her daughter, as if they are still somehow connected - and maybe they are - gives up a tiny somnambular fart. In sympathy. Or maybe I just squeezed her too hard. Whatever. Not wanting to be left out of this family occasion I pipe in on the trombone. In solidarity. To complete the flatulent chord.

"The family that farts together, lasts forever."

Yling finds this so amusing she, quite literally, splits her sides giggling. And is terrified she might be reduced to tears of laughter.

I put my little bagpipe down. And tend to the wound.

Being New Age Renaissance Man, I do try to help out as often as I can. Alleviate the woman's burden. You know. Do things for her. Like getting her the right to vote. Keeping the glass ceiling nice and clean. Offering to do the 3am feed. More often than not she declines. I can't figure out why. I mean, who wants to get up at three in the morning?

At first I thought it was some female bonding thing. Those precious moments everyone says they miss once the child evolves beyond such needs and feeds. And maybe that has a little to do with it. Turns out there's also an added incentive. A bonus.

Live football.

Yling is a Soccer Mom. Not the kind that ferries a bunch of cleat-clad kids around in an SUV. The kind that supports Manchester United. And hasn't missed a game in three years.

I wake about 4am. And notice Yling hasn't returned from feeding Big Nose. The light is on in the living room. And I stumble out to investigate.

There she is. Perched on the edge of her seat. Staring at the monitor. Sleeping infant cradled in her arms. Manchester giving The Gunners a good run for their money.

"You okay?"


I'm not sure if she's concerned that I'll wake the baby, or more annoyed that I'm interrupting the game.

Turns out she always gets up to watch the live broadcasts. Even going so far as to set the alarm. And arrange the occasional wake-up call. I just usually snore through it.

"Not even need to set alarm now. Got biological clock."

If she was any happier we'd need a cardiogram.

We've been living together for more than five years. And I'm just finding this out now. So I guess it's true what they say. When you have a kid, you learn something new every day. Sometimes even about yourself.

"What you learn, Gai-gai?"

I married the President of the Hong Kong chapter of the David Beckham Fan Club.


There's been no significant increase in the follicle count on Big Nose's bonce. She's still bald as a bandicoot. And, with The Whitey's winging their way back to the Land Of The Setting Sun with a swagful of photos depicting Sun Gum Bor Lor in her not-exactly-hirsute cuteness, we decide it's time to bite the bullet.
Everything must go.

What has she got to lose? Even I can't really see the harm in harvesting the fluff. Starting again. And the potential for humour is high.

Naturally, like all Hong Kong women, Hannah Mei must be seen at the right salon. Particularly for this defining moment. So we make an appointment for her with the Vidal Sassoon of The East. Vidal Kowloon, if you will. He fires up the diamond encrusted clippers and ploughs the contours of my daughter's dome. She furrows her brow, quizzically. But doesn't cry. Once. I'm so proud. Of our bald baby. Even if her unfeasibly large head now looks unfeasibly larger. A cranium of alien proportion, she looks like Lex Luthor, out to conquer the world. Or Kane, from Kung Fu. The buddhist who must wander the earth, helping people. And kicking ass. Only she's in nicer clothes. And has had a pedicure. Our little Shaolin Monkey.

You have much to learn, young Grasshopper.

We wait at the entrance to the salon, in our Combat Yoga stances, for the valet to bring the car. Those passing by cast a sympathetic eye in Hannah Mei's direction. They probably think she's got cancer. And is just coming off chemo. I knew I should've brought a hat. A bandana. Or a bedsheet. Yling surveys the city, absently.

"Maybe we should have got tongue cut while here. Doctor in same building."


"Get Big Nose tongue cut. Stop her speaking funny."

I wasn’t aware that she had even begun to speak. Let alone in a funny way. It takes an extended session of Q&A before we get to the tip of this twister.

In an effort to nip speech impediments in the bud, parents sometimes have the "little string" under their child's tongue severed. This is a premptive strike, apparently, to ensure Wang Junior won't develop a lisp.

At three months, however, one hath to wonder how they determine Lithp Potential in an infant. Thtill, I gueth it'th better to be thafe than thorry.

Little concern seems to be given to the possibility that the procedure may impede speech in other ways. Like the ability to string together a coherent sentence, for instance. Or the possibility that it may even induce latent patricidal tendencies.

"I wath mutilated by my parenth ath a child, Oprah. The cumulative effecth of yearth of abuthe made me do it."