Hong Kong-based Tiger Mom

11 March 2011
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee


I ran out of the house, late as usual, and my children were giggling as I scrambled into the car. I was on my way to interview the Managing Director of one of the largest wine importers in China. Tape recording device – check. My leather notebook – check. My cell phone – check. My business cards – check. My wallet – not in my bag. Perhaps my children had taken it out? Could it be in another bag? I didn’t dwell on it since I would not need it this afternoon.


As I walked into the lobby of the hotel, I ran into my girlfriend who hugged me and I apologetically rushed away explaining I was late for a meeting. She waved goodbye then suddenly ran over to me. “Jeannie, I know you are busy but you really need to look in the mirror before you leave the house.” She smiled and from the back of my slacks, she peeled away two stickers, one said “CUTIE” and the other was a big yellow smiley face. Now I remembered the giggling faces as I walked out the door!


There have been times when I appeared publicly wearing my sweaters inside out, shirts buttoned askew or my pants adorned with remnants of children’s food and snacks on them. Luckily I corrected these social gaffes before too many people noticed. Elevator mirrors have become my best friend and I’ve mastered the art of putting on makeup in less than ten minutes in any moving vehicle, even around narrow winding roads in the south side or the peak.


When the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua made headlines in the major international media, of course I had to read the book. I devoured it in one day then made my two eldest daughters read it too. I thought I was fairly strict but Chua made me look good! We have different goals and hopes for our children but our methodologies are not too far off.


While Chua is focused on her daughters mastering musical instruments and school work, I am focused on my children mastering languages (Korean, Putonghua, Cantonese and French) and expanding their sensory appreciation for taste and smells. From the time they were able to talk in full sentences, one of our favourite dinner table games was for each child to smell and describe wine’s flavors. We always had a bottle of wine open for dinner anyway so we passed a glass around to allow everyone to smell and even to taste it so that they could articulate the aromas. The child with the closest ‘right answer’, that is, closest to my answer, would receive a sticker or a small prize.


I remember when my youngest, Julia, was about five, she asked me, “Mommy, how did the flowers and the peaches get into this wine?” When I explained that no flavourings or ingredients other than grapes created the wine, she said, “Really, but it smells exactly like the peaches I had for breakfast!” She raised her eyebrows and was visibly impressed and I knew then that wine was touching her in a special way.


My four children can almost always identify Riesling now and Pinot Noir for them is the easiest: “I don’t even need to taste or smell this Mom,” my third daughter Christina will say, “This pale red colour has to be Pinot Noir!” We hardly have Beaujolais in the house so for them there aren’t many options for a red wine with such a pale hue. The game has become a bit more sophisticated now and rather than simply articulating the flavours, they are now required to identify the grape variety.


We play a different sort of game with food. After each meal, we talk about what was the most delicious dish and rate it out of ten. If we are in a restaurant, we give the restaurant a review and each person describes what was good and bad about the food, service and ambience. It is not the rating that is important but the fact that we are consciously thinking about what we are eating and drinking and reflecting on the experience.


This focus on food and wine as a key part of my parenting philosophy has a selfish motive: How else do you get children as young as five or six to sit through a ten-course meal over three hours? How can you take them to the best kaiseki or sushi restaurants if they don’t have an appreciation for subtle flavours, textures and an open-minded definition of ‘deliciousness’? I want my children with me on my food and wine journey in life and this takes a Tiger mom’s approach to practicing daily (at every meal) and being disciplined about learning the correct vocabulary and terms to work towards mastering the subject.


Reprinted with permission from South China Morning Post