Director's Statement

I forbade my sister to call my name. She was only to call me JIEJIE(older sister). I, on the other hand, always called her by her full name. My first time ever introducing her as my MEIMEI(younger sister) in public, happened at the age of 9. I remember being struck by the foreignness of these words.

ANNY(Feng-Chin) looked very different from me, we were raised by different aunts until four. My mother was a working pharmacist then, and no relative would babysit two girls at a time. When we were reunited 4 years later, I saw her as a competitor and an enemy. I looked down on her as I watch her struggle with piano, ballet, swimming class, homework, while I easily succeeded in these activities. From a young age, my sister had emotional eating problems and consciously blamed her pressure on me. Even though we were only one year apart, she was always the same size as me with a much rounder tummy.

I soon decided she was too dumb for me, and often fantasized life without her. My mother saw our differences and decided to protect her by rarely comparing us or openly praising me. She often forced us to share the same ice cream, even though we’d always end up in a fight when I insisted on using two spoons while my sister licked with her tongue as a way of hogging the entire ice cream. My mother always fails to resolve the fight by telling me to “give it to meimei”. I said nothing, but my resentment for my sister grew as my body grew more like my mother’s.

I still have a vivid image of my mother teaching us how to blow a bubble gum around the age of 5. It was a cool afternoon in the park, my mother squats down, gave me and my sister each a piece of gum. To my surprise, my sister quickly managed a bubble while I struggled on. My mother clapped, laughed, and hugged her for her little achievement. I threw the piece of gum out and refused to eat bubble gum to this day.

In1997, the return of HK fueled the tension between the straits. Like many other families, My mother feared for us and decided to protect us with a second passport. She convinced my father to apply for a working visa in the states, to which he complied. I still remember the purple highway rushing by the car window as my father explains the abstract idea of America(Mei-Guo) to me on our way to the airport. Little did I know, for the next five years, I would be separated from him as he sends $1000 to us each month, all of his salaries.

Out of all the places in the states, my mother chose Salem, Oregon, where her high school friend married as a pastor’s wife. In the age of no internet or cell phones, my mother was heavily dependent on her friend. Naturally, she expected us to get along with her friend’s four American-born and Christian-raised children, including Shane, who was my age.

Coming from an atheist family(like most Taiwanese were), my mother couldn't explain to me how heaven worked, who God was, and why the math of Jesus being 100% man and 100% God didn’t add up. I remember being taught to write Jesus is my savior with a gel pen when I could barely write English alphabets. My questions were hushed, silenced, and pushed away. Even when my mother was unsure of her Christian identity, we still went to church, every Sunday.

Moving from a Taipei metropolitan to the American suburb meant that us, the trio is locked together all the time with little entertainment. Church on Sundays in such circumstances was like a trip to Disneyland. Only the villains were the good Christian kids, and we were no princess.

I learned English much quicker than my sister, and consciously separated my self from her. Being the youngest in the group, she was always the last one picked during games after worship. I still remember to this day, when I finally “made it” as a captain of the team, the way my sister looked at me, hoping that this time, she won’t be the “left over”. I managed to look away and picked another girl. She quit the game.

I thought I was ashamed of her, but really, I was ashamed of being an immigrant. I was ashamed of my bad English, my fresh off boat appearance, my obvious outsiderness. My sister was my mirror, she was an embodiment of everything I rejected in myself. At age 7, I wanted “to be just like everyone else”, like the girls who would wear black chokers and matching colored Gap hoodies to school.

I remember staring at Gap commercials wearing hand-me-down clothes from the church. Our furniture never matched, neither did our plates or cups. We sat on a $20 sofa picked out from Good Will, so worn that I begged my mother to buy a large fabric to cover it. Before any guest came over, I would obsessively tuck in the cover between the seats.

While my mother excruciated over every penny, stressed over plumbing, learning to drive, mowing the lawn, fitting in at church, she had little time and attention for my emotions. Growing up, I believed my mother blindly preferred my younger sister and detested her weakness in language and ability to take care of the most mundane activities.

The year I turned 12, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We returned to Taiwan, and I have given very little thoughts about this time period ever since. Her sickness made her held on to God, and she continued going to church in Taiwan. I, on the other hand, stayed as far away as I could. My mother never worked since her insecurities made her grew into a cancer bully who would threaten me with her death whenever I misbehaved. This, of course, backfired. My sister and I almost stopped speaking, and lead very separate lives from middle school to college.

I rarely looked back on our days together in the states, partly because my mother blamed her illness, and alienation with my father on this time period. My mother never failed to remind me the unfair price she paid for our dual citizenship and bilingual skills, and that my very existence is the proof of her sacrifice and my debt to her. I despised her for her neediness and weakness and vowed to be never like her.

Being back in the states for AFI, however, gave me a different Americanized experience as an adult. First time alone in Los Angeles, I begin to understand a fraction of my mother’s struggle: Learning to drive, getting insurance, balancing bills and long-distance relationships. As a woman now, I started to see my mother in a new light.

As I was writing the Lily character, I confronted my mother about her motivation for immigration. I find political instability and drive for education insufficient for a woman to take such risk with her own marriage. After a long pause, my mother confided in me, that she, at 42, was tired of her 9-year marriage. And that she, too, wanted to “start over”.

As this blurry period continues to haunt me, I cannot go back in time to be a better daughter, or a more understanding sister. This film is a quest for lost times as I write a diary of my 9-year old self. A self-centered daughter, a neglectful sister who was blinded by an image of who she wishes she was, rather than accepting than who she is.

I was a perfectionist that always wanted to be better, and my sister was never good enough for me. No one is ever good enough for me, not my mother, and not even myself.

I believed my sister didn’t deserve any love because she didn’t “perform” like I did. She didn’t try to blend in, try to learn English, or tried to play with the other kids. But why does one need to perform to be loved? This is a question I can never answer my self.

We are all fighting so hard to be loved, yet deep down there is a part of us that worries that we’re not good enough to be loved. It is often our family that loves us, flawed as we are, terrible as we are. And it is within them that we can ever be convinced that we deserve the love of any kind. JIEJIE is a confession, an act of love, and if I dare ask, it is me asking for a bit of redemption.

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