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Posted on Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : noon

Unearthing our town's hidden cross-cultural treasures with the spring

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

No school today, so I spend the day walking around town in the sunshine with my boy, Little Brother, unearthing so many hidden cross-cultural treasures with the spring.

First we go swimming at the YMCA. As we walk down Washington Street, he spots a (plastic) owl sitting on a second floor porch across the street. Leslie Science Center just visited his school, so he immediately identifies the specimen as “A Great Horned Owl” (rather than simply “an owl”) and he begins to hoot at it the way he just heard a real Great Horned Owl hoot in school. When it does not respond, his brow furrows, troubled. Then he concludes that it must be asleep “because owls are nocturnal.”

We stop in at Downtown Home and Garden to try on all the hats and visit with Louis. Like explorers on safari, we hunt through all the stacks of soil and seeds until we finally find Louis sunning himself in the front window by the porch swings. After only five minutes of Little Brother’s vigorous petting, Louis the cat escapes to an upstairs office.

Then Little Brother and I play with all the retro wooden toys. Ah, Americana...

...even though one of those simple wooden toys is a Buddhist prayer drum that my own little brother used to play with when he was a child, now mainstream.

As we leave, Little Brother freezes in his tracks when he sees a stone Buddah on display along the fence with the other garden ornaments. With hushed awe in his voice, he gasps, “It’s Buddah!” His hands automatically fly together and he bows his head in respect. To a garden ornament. To a religious icon. Tucked in among the plants for sale. So he was paying attention at temple, after all. It is so rare to see our religion reflected in the world around us, I have to take this moment to stop and bow my head with him and teach him the name, “Amida Buddah,” and the prayer:

Namo Amida Butsu. Namo Amida Butsu. Namo Amida Butsu.

We stick our heads in at June’s New Age Salon to say hello to the Aunties. Without a word, Little Brother — who has been looking rather like a Beatle — walks all the way in and climbs up into June’s barber chair. We check out all the other male customers — Vietnamese, Chinese, Caucasian, Korean — to see if he should copy their hairdos, but he knows what he wants and tells her in Mandarin.

After Farmers Market, Little Brother and I stop for a strawberry lemonade freeze and treat at the Kerrytown Sweetwaters Café. When we spot our young friend Ari, Little Brother quickly covers his treat with his baseball cap and asks Ari to guess what it might be. As Ari guesses wildly, Little Brother reveals a few clues: It has brown stripes, it is not an animal, it is brown and sweet. Still, Ari’s guesses are way off mark: tiger, zebra, raccoon, cookie, cake, croissant, brownie, pastry, pie. Finally, on the verge of defeat, Ari desperately blurts out, “Rugelach.” Little Brother smiles and says, “You’re right!” and proudly uncovers his rugelog, a favorite Sweetwaters adaptation. Ari laughs, “I don’t even know where that came from.”

Funny how the Jewish man was not really expecting the Asian American boy to be eating rugelach out on the sidewalk, and how the Asian American boy did not really conceive of rugelach as falling into any of the broader categories of cookie or cake.

And how the five-year-old boy thinks of rugelachrugelach! —  as something that of course anyone would know.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at, her blog at, and she can be reached at