Kevin Pang on his parents’ surprise hit—a Chinese cookery YouTube show:
The first few emails were marked “Fwd: Jeffrey Pang sent you a video,” so I ignored them. Statistics were on my side: In the history of parental email forwards, roughly 0.001 percent have been worth opening.
Later he followed up by phone. I told him I hadn’t found time to watch whatever it was he sent. Several seconds of silence hung between us before my dad replied: “Oh.”
This is how it had gone for 30-some years — a father-son relationship kept cordial and indifferent through habit and physical distance. I live in Chicago; he’s in Seattle. Once a week, we’d talk on the phone for five minutes and exchange the least substantive of pleasantries: “How’s the weather?” “Plans this weekend?” Not a meaningful conversation so much as a scripted set of talking points.
Only when my mom nudged did I open the video Dad had sent.
Fade in: the company logo for Creative Production, with the E-A-T in “Creative” highlighted. Cue soft piano melody, the type of royalty-free soundtrack that sounds like the hold Muzak when you call your dermatologist. Dissolve to title screen: “Catherine Mom’s Shanghainese Green Onion Pancake,” with its translation in Chinese. And then a photo of my mother (Catherine) and my grandma. A shot of our white kitchen island, and my mother’s hands, her unmistakable wedding band, digging into and massaging wet dough. My virulently anti-technology Chinese parents were starring in their own internet cooking show.
Then one video turned into a few dozen, and now, somehow, my retired, 65-year-old father has nearly a million views on his YouTube channel.