Sunday, January 15, 2012


That was one of the questions on two of the lips at my Beijing apartment compound a few weeks ago as Tiger Father fever gripped the world. Now I’m back, semi-refreshed from the holidays, ready for a whole year’s ranting.
Remember that thing that time? Sh*t My Dad Says? It started out when young journalist Justin Halpern had to move back in with his father owing to an acute attack of unemployment. One day he stopped grimacing over the outrageous things his dad kept saying and instead started posting them on Facebook. Soon a lot of followers would log on each day to read these dad-isms. Then a publisher saw them, had them turned into a book, which became a TV series, and next thing you know ol’ Justin’s a millionaire.
Well the same thing is going to happen here. Or it is if you believe those shrewd market analysts I like to call “those in the know”, or which I sometimes call “me”.
It all started way back in October, 2011 …
One day, this stay-at-home dad looked around him to discover two startling things: 1. His kids were in full time school. 2. His wife was staring at him. Not in a good, doe-eyed way, but in that arms-crossed, tapping-her-foot, waiting-for-something-to-happen kind of way.
So, like many a stay-at-home parent before him, this old journalist remembered what he could do best – type!
This realisation had come to me once before, which was also the previous time I was unemployed. It was 1991 and I was living in recession-hit, war-torn Canada. I was fatigued and downhearted. But in one of those stories-that-change-your-life I looked at the back of my bus ticket and it asked me in big letters if I could type. As a journalist, hell yes I could type. So I followed the ad to its source, which was a pool - of typists. And I became a temp secretary. A male one, as it happens.
I still have that crumpled old bus ticket pinned to a corkboard in my home office. Every now and then I look at it, wistfully of course, and take it down. I then tell my kids the story of how you never know what Dame Fortune or Madam Fate can deliver when all around seems dark.
Well, not really. I threw the ticket away that day. It didn’t really change my life but I was soon on my way to making $8 an hour for typing, which was dead simple. But occasionally I do tell my kids to never give up on their dream of making an easy eight bits an hour as a typist, if that is a dream they might one day have.
But apart from being able to type, to be a great writer, or even a poor one, you need to have words – words coming out of you like angry bats from a cave, as one writer once wrote, or like blobs in a lava lamp swirling occasionally to the surface, in my case. Not wanting to give away all my secrets to great writing or anything, but as you type those words you have to remember to watch on thing – the word counter at the bottom of your screen. When it gets to 1000 you stop. Then, if you’re able to grasp some internet technology, which in my case has been likened to watching a dog walk on its hind legs, you can have yourself a blog.
And that is how the Tiger Father was born, coming into the world at 4.02am last October 19 weighing seven pounds six ounces and covered in slimy goop.

A dog operating a computer and standing on its hind legs,

Since its inception, the Tiger Father has, to be modest, created an enormous wave of excitement, having been named by Time Magazine as one of the biggest phenomena of 2011 along with the El Nino effect and the second coming of that beacon of hope and succour to millions, the iPad.
Or, to be more accurate, the Tiger Father has created some excitement around my compound, amongst friends who, for want of better words, are part of the day-to-day mundanity into which I breathe life with my florid prose. Often this excitement consists of them coming to me to ask not be put in this blog. Like the lady I saw hurling F-words at a guard that time, or that other housewife who is secretly planning to form a people’s army and overthrow China's Communist regime.
But mostly the talk turns to who will play us all in the movie which will surely follow the book which will come out of all this.
I must admit, funny as it might seem, I haven’t yet decided on me. But I’m thinking of either Tom Cruise, Daniel Craig with his shirt off, or Gollum off Lord of the Rings. There are some more obvious candidates. As referred to in a previous post, sexiest-man-alive Bradley Cooper will be offered the role as the man he looks like, my mate Bill from building three.

The author relaxing on holidays in Hebei province,
three hours north-west of Beijing.

But then there’s the age-old question of who would play English mum-of-two Helen from building 15 in the Hollywood portrayal of her life (as it relates to me). Meryl Streep, though once thought to specialise in Antipodeans after a dingo got her boibee, has been installed amongst the leading candidates for the role of Helen, having just drawn acclaim for playing a similar English woman, Margaret Thatcher. But instead, Helen points out she is more often compared to that other politically-charged actress, Susan Sarandon.
Of course discussion of this while waiting for the school bus one afternoon gave rise to one previously unconsidered dilemma. Sarandon is considered one of history’s finest film stars and was duly honoured with an Academy Award for playing a nun in 1990s zombie flick Dead Man Walking.
“But will she make my bum look big?” Helen worried aloud.
For variations on a theme, this may never be beaten. Usually it doesn’t apply to actresses but to jeans and pants, which it seems often have some sort of mystical, rear-view mirror type of quality, in that the object in them is not as large as it appears.
I have of course been in the firing line of this conundrum of physics before. You don’t get to your mid-forties, a veteran of several hard-fought relationship campaigns, without staring down the barrel of this question a few times and seeing a pensive woman staring at you from behind it. My own wife once asked if the jeans she was wearing made her butt look big. “No,” I said, “It’s all the cakes and pies you eat.” Great writers sometimes have to sacrifice themselves for lines like these, regardless of the consequences. Thus we suffer for our art.

People have often commented on the resemblance:
My friend Helen out shopping in Beijing ...

... and relaxing at home
in building 15.

The real Sarandon agreed to pose for
this exclusive picture for the Tiger
Father yesterday. However, she refused
to show her butt. It remains unclear,
therefore, whether she will be asked
to play Helen in the Tiger Father movie.

But look, all these words are for a purpose, they’re not just to fill a void you might otherwise have had for the past 10 minutes when you should have been working. They’re a roundabout way of announcing the Tiger Father is back from holidays, semi-refreshed and ready* to churn, plough and finesse his way through more writings on life, times and parenting in modern China, which is nowadays not the straight-jacketed pit of repression and censorship it probably seems to the outsider looking in from abroad. It is in fact quite a bit colder.
It is my fervent, humble hope that you enjoy this blog like nothing else you have ever enjoyed in your life. And if you’re into publishing books, or making blockbuster Hollywood movies, please let me know.

(*At least I will be ready after Chinese New Year holidays, which start this week. It’s this time of year that everything in China shuts down, including myself. Pretty close to Christmas, huh? You see there are upsides to living here. There will be a fresh post here on Thursday, but after that, well we'll see.)

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