Was it really stealing? Stealing is wrong.

First of all, let me say that I’ve never stolen anything before. Well, that was what I truly thought until I started to write and then I began to remember my dishonest and theiving past. I was astonished, really. It’s funny what we forget and what we remember once we start writing. Forgive me and my mother, dear readers, forgive us.

I was probably around 10 years old, my brother 7. My mom would take us fishing somewhere past Wahiawa, but before the North Shore on Oahu. I found the whole process mysterious because she would drive our gray Isuzu Impulse through Dole’s pineapple fields until she hit a line of trees. Then we would grab our fishing gear and walk out to the edge of Lake Wilson.

One day as we were leaving, our little car driving fast and furiously over the red dirt roads, my mom stopped the car. The engine was still running.

She looked over at me, “Take a pineapple.”

“What? That’s stealing!”

She gave me one of her notorious dirty looks, “Do you think anyone is going to miss it?”

I reluctantly opened the car door and peered out at the sea of pineapples. There were fields of them – golden pineapples sitting on top of the dirt in haphazard positions ripe for the picking.

“Do you wanna get caught?” She hissed. “Take one!” My mom quickly scanned the area for an imaginary policeman.

I was confused by the many pineapples sitting before me, “Which one?” I cried.

“Any one!” She cried back.

I grabbed the ripest-looking one and shut the car door. From the backseat my younger brother Larry admired our latest catch of the day. A cloud of red smoke followed us until the car hit the pavement. My mom started laughing.


The PX (Post Exchange) are department stores located on military bases. And because my father died while serving in the US Air Force, we were able to enjoy base privileges. My mom would have them for the rest of her life, while Larry and I would have them until we turned 18. It was in the PX that this particular incident occurred.

My mom and I were looking at dresses for me. She never wore dresses. I saw her in traditional Thai skirts at Buddhist celebrations or parties from time to time. Somehow after we arrived at our destination she would magically reappear in one. The strangest thing. I guess she borrowed them from friends.

We were able to narrow down our search to two dresses. This was when baby doll dresses were in fashion. I couldn’t decide between the two. Well, actually I liked the more expensive one – the pink one.

I bit my lower lip. Held the dresses against me, “What do you think mom?”

She tilted her head. “I like the black one.”

Since my mom’s wardrobe consisted primarily of the color I was disappointed in myself for asking. I sighed. These were difficult moments for a teenage girl.

My mom started looking through the clothing racks again when a price tag hanging off one of the dresses ended up in her hand. The rectangular shaped tag was torn right where the plastic fastener previously held it in place. The rip was hardly noticeable. She could have easily put the tag back on the plastic. Like a three hole punched page – when one of the holes rip, but you can still slide it back into your three ring binder? The tag was like that.

As soon as the price tag ended up in her hand she made a surprised sound, “Hmmp.” Then she read the amount $6.99. A tiny smile appeared on my mom’s face. Swiftly she ripped off the price tag off of the pink dress. The $6.99 tag found itself dangling from a pink dress. The $19.99 tag magically made its way to the dress on the rack.

“Mom!” I scolded as quietly as possible. I scanned for surveillance cameras or people watching us.

Her grin was wide now and she was giggling, “Come on. Let’s get both dresses.” She patted the dresses in my arms.

“What if we get caught?” I couldn’t believe she was doing this.

We continued to walk to the cashier.

“How will they know?”

I gently placed the dresses on the conveyer belt.

“Hello,” the cashier said, “How are you?”

“Fine.” My mom replied with a smile. Then she gave me a slight nod.

I realized I must have been wearing the fright on my face like a Halloween mask so I tried to act calm as she scanned the first dress through.

When the pink dress’ tag fell off the plastic loop I felt like Winona Rider when she got caught for shoplifting. I waited for the cashier’s reaction. My mom’s face a picture of serenity. No one would ever suspect this sweet-faced Thai woman who barely was 5 feet tall with short black (dyed) curly (permed) hair.

“Oh!” The cashier exclaimed. She ran the price tag through and gave us a smile. “$26.89”

My mom handed her cash. She gave us change and I grabbed the plastic bag. As soon as we walked outside I breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t believe we got away with that. I couldn’t believe my mother.


When I was about 9 or 10 years old I started to steal money from my mom’s purse so I could buy candy. Whenever she took a nap on the couch or in her bedroom I would tiptoe around her and open her purse. She always kept her purse near her during these nap times. Perhaps it is an old school way of thinking. Perhaps this is just poor people’s version of an alarm system.

When my mom is exhausted, tuckered out and plum tired, she snores. Depending on how hard she worked and how worn down she was, there were variations or levels of snoring. There was the deep heavy breathing variety. There was the occasional snore variety and then there was when she snored so loud she sounded like a cow mooing.

Obviously cow mooing was a-go-go since this meant she had entered the deepest sleep. These rare moments meant that I could open her purse and unzip her pocketbook with more confidence. Nevertheless, my heart raced whenever I went for her purse. And I constantly stopped my actions to stare at her to make sure she hadn’t moved or heard me.

When I did open up her wallet I was faced with several bills and the important choice of how much to take. I wasn’t stupid enough to take a $20 bill and I knew I needed to make sure the amount was insignificant enough for her not to notice, yet enough for me to head over to the white van of hope.

Candy was my crack and I needed my fix on a daily basis. How did other children get the money? Exactly. I could not have been the only one who chose this dark route. Allowances were for white kids. We never got an allowance. We got an allowance of spankings and beatings. Generosity then knew no bounds.

Whenever my brother and I walked home after school and got past the high school (where the distinct smell of marijuana lingered), there our friendly white van awaited. The black van with the tinted windows took children. The white van with the open sliding door embraced children.

There we would wait our turn as we pondered what to buy today. I felt like Wile E Coyote rubbing his paws licking his chops over the mere thought of a roasted Roadrunner. Behind that plexiglas those shelves were lined with candy after candy. My favorites: Nerds, Jawbreakers, Fireballs, Chicko Sticks, Fun Dip, Sixlets, Big League Chew, Tootsie pops, rolls, Pop Rocks, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes, Now and Laters, Smarties, Sugar Daddy suckers, Sweet tarts and the original gummy bears.

gummy bears

I was a connoisseur of candy willing to explore new territory. “What’s this?” I pointed to the black and white nondescript confection.

The man behind the counter touched the item in question. “That!” he said excitedly, “That is gum from Japan. It’s black.”

“What does it taste like?” I was practically shaking with anticipation.

There was a glow in his eyes, “Coca-cola.”

Steady. Steady girl. “How much does it cost?”

“A dollar. But it’s worth it.”

“I’ll take it.”

My mom never caught me because I was too clever. I’d pluck a few dollars here and a few dollars there. When there was a lot of cash I could steal a $5 bill with daring ease. There were a few times when I tiptoed around my mom, opened her purse, dug around for her wallet, slowly clicked it open to find nothing but a couple of $1 bills or a lonely $20 bill. I would look at my unsuspecting slumbering mom with disgust.

There were close calls – which required quick reflexes. I was in her bedroom creeping towards her purse when she rolled over. Originally her back was towards me and I thought I was home free, but when she rolled over I crouched down behind the bed and waited and listened. I was too spooked to continue so I crawled out of her bedroom.


But the first time I stole was in the first grade. And I got sent to the principal’s office. I was in the cafeteria for lunch. My mom always gave us lunch money. If we had a field trip, I remember having to make one up with whatever was handy in the cupboard.

Lunch cost 25 cents and it tasted like it. (Although, I remember the due-to-inflation-45 cent lunches tasting better) As soon as I sat down with my lunch tray, another kid from kindergarten sat next to me with his brown-bagged lunch.

Kid junior probably pulled out a shiny bag of chips, Jell-o pudding pops and a bologna and cheese sandwich on honest white bread. I looked back at my lunch which suddenly looked like prison gruel.

“Hey. You wanna trade lunch?”

He sniffed at mine like a dog. “No, thanks.”

“Oh c’mon. Look how much more I have than you. I have all this.” I waved my hand over the lunch tray, “including milk.”

“Well,” he began to waver.

“Please!” I could smell and taste potato chip victory.

“Okay.” He put the items back in his bag and gave it to me.

I slid my tray triumphantly over to him.

Then he peered down at his new lunch, “I don’t like it. I want my lunch back.”

“No way. You traded it fair and square.”

Kid junior’s face crumbled. “I want my lunch back!”

Hugging the brown bag lunch to my chest I retorted, “No!  It’s mine.”

“Give it back to me!”

“No! Eat your lunch and shut up.”

He started crying. “I want my lunch back. I want my lunch back.”

I panicked. He was causing undue attention to the situation.

“I’m telling…”

Oh, god. “Okay.” I shoved the brown bag back in his chest. But he continued to cry. So I started to pet him like a dog and looked around. “It’s okay. Here’s your lunch.”

He got up from his seat.

I sat there forlornly, waiting for the inevitable. Seconds went by and I start to wonder if he must have decided not to tell. I began to eat when a lunch monitor tapped me on the shoulder. “You’re going to the principal’s office.” Kid junior was smiling behind her.

The principal’s office is a dirty place where all foul little thieving children go to be punished. There were cobwebs, sewer rats, vultures and even a blind boy with no hands sitting on a pile of unfinished homework begging for change. I bravely stepped over him and walked into the principals’ office.

I must have blacked out momentarily or fainted because I don’t remember much. I remember being thankful that there was no parental involvement and I remember the principal was kinder than I thought he would be. But what I remember most was leaving his office, seeing the sun again, breathing in the fresh free air and thinking, “I never want to do that again.”


And now it’s your turn. Have you ever stolen anything?

When I was 12…

May Day @ Mililani Waena Elementary School, circa 1985
May Day @ Mililani Waena Elementary School, circa 1985

When I was 12, I lived in a townhouse on Anania Circle in the town of Mililani, situated in the center of the island of Oahu.  Our neighbor was a grumpy old man who would bang his fists against the wall whenever I practiced the piano. Soon we figured out that I could not, should not play during the evening news.

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What were you like in high school?

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What were you like in college was such a fun and inspiring post, I thought I’d tackle the next obvious question: What were you like in high school?

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How has your name impacted you?

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I remember in the sixth grade when this new kid came to class. He was one of the few black kids at our school, and on his first day he answered Mrs. K’s questions as best as he could.

“Your name is Filet Mingon?”

“Yes.”

She said it louder and slower, “Your name is Filet Mingon?”

“Yes.”

“Your parents,” she was really exploring the weight of her words, “named you, Filet Mingon.”

“Yes.”

There have been numerous reports on the prejudices and impact a person’s name has on their career. But we knew this already, right? My b/f and I couldn’t stop sharing all of our name stories. When he writes his post I’ll link to his because he was cracking me up.

My name has definitely impacted me. My first name is Hawaiian, my middle name is Thai and my last name is British, even though I am not ethnically Hawaiian or British. Although, it’s interesting that Hawaii’s flag is the only US flag to feature the Union Jack.

In Hawaii, Lani, is a pretty common name. My Chinese grandma named me such because I was born in Hawaii. I was her son’s first born and since my mom just arrived from Thailand, my parents probably wanted to give her the honor.  So, growing up with a Hawaiian name I was frequently asked if I was Native Hawaiian, and everyone knew how to say it.

But once I left Hawaii for college in Colorado, or when I lived in California between 13-15 years old, folks found a way to say my name wrong. If you are old enough to know who Loni Anderson is, then I would tell people to say my name like her. Basically, people would use say the “a as in average” instead of the “a as in awesome” 😛 The Brits really like to use the former “a” sound.

My college professor, the very British Dr. Duke actually had an argument with me during class, over the correct pronunciation of my name. Ye-ah. And since Thailand has its fair share of Brits, I’m awarded the incorrect articulation of my name on a regular basis. So, I return the favor with my horribly bad British accent which they say sounds Australian. Bastards.

The Thais can say my name because it’s easy. It ends like lots of other Thai words with that “ee” sound. When I went to a fortune teller he told me if I spelled my name like this ลานี then I would have fortune. But if I spelled my name like this…ลาฌี then I’d have success. (Damn it, why can’t I have both?)

Overall though, I like my first name, I always have. My last name, on the other hand, sounds like male reproductive members. I hate having to say it because: a) folks think I’m calling them a cock, b) I end up spelling it anyways, and c) they are confused as chicken feet that my name isn’t Chen, Zhang, Wang, Xiu or Li.

Basically, my Chinese father was adopted by Mr. Cox, an American-British, and he took on his adopted father’s name. In fact, his first name became John, named after Mr. Cox’s brother in Montana. So, Hwa Lin Chu became John H. Cox. And there you have a personal example of the continuation and tradition of many immigrants changing their ethnic names to sound more American.

In junior high, I remember the boys started calling me by my last name. In high school, a group of mean girls wrote my name as “cock” on our group project. I quietly corrected them and hated them for being such bitches. When I started teaching at a primary school, it was really weird to be referred to as Miss. Cox. Then a few of my girls started calling me Miss Coxy, as a term of endearment, but the parents didn’t like it.

I didn’t think much of this until later, but when I was interviewing and applying for jobs, employers were mildly surprised when they read my name and saw me. I was often asked if I was married, because Cox couldn’t be my maiden name.

By now I hope we have outgrown what my last name sounds like. I used to want to change it to my future husband’s name, but then I thought, when I’m famous no one will know who I am. Seriously, the way I think sometimes is highly amusing.

My middle name is Valapone and I know already you are saying it wrong because it’s spelled not the way you’d say it. Thai sounds don’t really translate well into English. I actually loathe reading my Thai students translated names because they often are not said the way they are spelled. Foreigners, for example, think it’s HILLARIOUS that there is the name Porn. But you don’t say the “r” sound, so it’s essentially, Pon.

If my name was spelled the way it sounded it would look more like this, Walapon. Interestingly, I remember one of my coworkers asking me if my middle was Italian. I guess he thought the ending –e had that Italian flair like spaghetti or rigatoni or Maserati. Ah, Ray, swell guy.

Valapone comes from my mom, obviously, since she is Thai. It’s supposed be one of her names, but like a good Thai, she’s got a gazillion names. Her Thai friends in Hawaii call her that, or Pon for short. In Thailand, she has a different nickname based on her full moon birth. And in the US, her formal name is usually shortened for ease, so the public calls her Jan. How she keeps track of all of these names is beyond me, but apparently, it’s normal.

Well, we better not get into nicknames and pet names, eh? How has your name impacted you?

Swearing.

Swearing was not allowed in the house. But then again, swearing was on the cable TV and in the rooms and behind the words of everyone in the house. I remember the first time I swore in front of my mother. I must have been about 15 years old. We were in the garage, getting ready to get into the car. I’m sure it was the grey Isuzu Impulse, later to be mine. I don’t know what happened exactly, perhaps I had scraped myself with the car door, but I said, “Shit.”

My younger brother was silent. My mother looked at me with her dirtiest of looks, but that was it. I couldn’t believe I got away with it! My insides were popping with excitement and joy. Yes, joy. Why joy? Because I had gotten away with something bad, and I had done it right in front of my mother.

My mother swore, but you know when folks speak in their second language, how the swearing sounds funny? Yeah, couldn’t really take her seriously. Bad words lost all of their vitality and virility under my mom’s tongue. I think she might have given up because her Americanized children laughed at her poor pronunciation.

I liked swearing. It seemed the perfect way to rebel without really being horribly bad. The height of my swearing career occurred when I was in the 6th grade. Janet Craig and I were in a competition over who could swear the most. And she was really fucking good.

But when I was in junior high, my mom decided to stick my younger brother and I in a Christian school and I knew that my swearing days had come to a hasty end.  Although there was this one time I decided to rebel again.

The 7th and 8th graders were in the same small classroom, and there were a couple of Mexican boys who enjoyed teasing and taunting me. Looking back, I think they were crushing on me, but looking then, I thought they just enjoyed giving me a hard time. It was always harmless. Sometimes their sexual and lewd gestures in the back of the classroom, when our teacher wasn’t looking, were confusing. I knew it was dirty, but I didn’t know what they were doing.

One day, out on the basketball courts, I think I might have had enough. But I don’t really remember what was said. All I recall were the “Oooohhhs,” you know, the “Ooohs” when a kid says something really insulting and you’re left there in the middle of playground-land to defend yourself. I decided to be dramatic. I like to be dramatic sometimes.

So I walked right up to Antonio and put myself inches from his face. This got the crowd really excited. And I said, “Fuck you.” The students went wild. And I felt pretty damn full of myself – until I saw how crestfallen he looked and later when I got in trouble and had to apologize.

Do you swear? What’s the biggest you got in trouble for swearing?

Why expats (outsiders) are good for a community

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Hey, we’re not all ghoulish creeps and weirdos, you know!

Growing up in Hawaii offered many wonderful experiences that, as a child, I wasn’t even aware of. Sure, I didn’t see snow until I left, but I lived outside, in the sunshine, the warmth, the play that many children seem to be deprived of nowadays. We didn’t know seasons, really. And I never owned an alarm clock until I moved to the Mainland, because I woke up naturally with the sun.

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Anania Circle

I’ve been greatly inspired with not enough time to write, so I’m depressed, moody and a little resentful. Good stuff.

Last weekend I sort of attended the Asia Pacific Writers conference in Bangkok. JP and I were “too poor” to attend the real event, so I made a compromise and paid for a 2 hour workshop, and we attended the free literary event on Saturday.

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