October 24th, 2012
Warning: This story does not have a happy ending.
Many westerners who marry into a Chinese family often bond with their father-in-law over a Qingdao beer or a couple shots of strong Chinese alcohol. Me? I fish with my Chinese father-in-law.
In early October we went up to a lake in Western Massachusetts to go fishing, both of us lacking a fishing license. I’ve never been able to explain to him that in the land of the free you still need to register with the government to catch a fish. I’ve never been good at fishing and frankly I’ve never enjoyed fishing. But last year when my Chinese mother-in-law was in America I took her fishing on a day where it seemed that all the fish had death wishes. My Chinese mother-in-law and I caught so many fish that one day that we couldn’t keep them all, though she desperately wanted to. If I couldn’t explain to them the concept of a fishing license I certainly failed in attempting to explain the concept of “catch and release.” To the both of them there is only “catch” and never “release.” This concept is as foreign to them as the Chinese concept of postpartum recovery is to Americans. So my name went into the annals of my new extended family as a “good fisherman who really knows how to fish” which couldn’t be further from the truth.
When my Chinese father-in-law arrived he was eager for a repeat trip and to catch as many if not more fish with the same wishes. Summer turned into autumn and finally by mid-October we made the trip. He was prepared a week earlier when he moved a few stumps and rocks in our yard to reveal worms that my son and him gleefully collected. He even kept some raw meat scraps from some unmentionable part of an animal and put it into a snack baggie to bring along to entice the piranhas in the lake. Faced with a 65 year old Chinese man who lived through the Cultural Revolution, I thought the least I could do is to bring him fishing. My suggestion was to get up early which is the time I’ve always gone fishing in my life. This idea was roundly rejected by him and roundly accepted by me as I turned over with a smile in bed. When we did finally get out to the canoe with our fishing poles I found that none of them were equipped with just a hook and bobber which to me is the easiest way to fish. No, in fact they were all equipped with massive six-hooked lures that had the potential of catching the elusive sasquatch fish of the lake. Of course, he doesn’t know the concept of saltwater lures and fresh water lures and plus I forgot the word for lure in Chinese anyway, so I did what I hate most, clip lures off and attempt to tie a hook on.
The contraption at the end of the fishing pole was laughable but the best I could do without a fishing expert with me who knew how and what we would catch on such a cold morning or whether we even had a prayer. We went out and I did a few casts because my Chinese father-in-law has never gotten the hang of casting a fishing pole. Though I’ve never gotten the hang of his beautiful Chinese calligraphy so I guess we all have abilities that come natural to us. So after about 30 minutes on the water without coffee I explained to him that I needed to go back and have my breakfast and that it seems like the fish are too deep. Disappointed because I know I let him down, I paddled back as he untangled fishing lines and unhooked lures from ropes.
Some Western guys who marry Chinese girls often bond with their father-in-law by drinking strong alcohol. I fish. After a day like this though, I think I might try the beer with him next time.