Kitty Cat Profile & Bio

My wife, Elena (AKA Kitty Cat) is the most important person in my life. She's truly a joy to be around, not to mention a great subject to photograph (thus the Kitty Cat Diary in the photography section). She keeps her own blog (她的中文部落格), but it's in Chinese only (although you can look at the photos she takes there even if you don't read Chinese).

English name: Elena Tu

Interests: Gardening, reading, movies/television, health & beauty, cooking, home decoration

Favorite films: Goodfellas, The Manchurian Candidate (remake), The Man From Earth, Shindler's List, Amadeus, Empire of the Sun, Before Sunset, Braveheart, Sense and Sensibility, The Pianist, Queen margot, Malena, Interview with the Vampire

Favorite animated films: Grave of the Firefly, Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away

Favorite TV shows: Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Americans, Married Ten Years (Chinese), Tokyo Love Story (Japanese)

Favorite music: Trip-hop, dream pop, soft jazz, electro-acoustic pop, J-Pop, K-Pop, Chinese pop.


The Early Years

Kitty Cat was born as Tu Chaohui in 1971, in Nanping, Fujian, China, youngest of three siblings. When she was two months old, she was so sick that her mother thought her death was almost certain. Chaohui's grandmother didn't want to give up hope, and asked to take Chaohui to Fuzhou, where the hospitals were better. Chaohui's mother decided to just hand her over to the grandmother to raise. Her exact words were "Just take her to Fuzhou and try your luck there with the better hospitals. If she dies, I won't blame you." Chaohui's mother would continued to send money to Chaohui's grandmother (8 RMB a month--that's $1 USD a month. No, you read that correctly--one American dollar a month), until she was fourteen.

Chaohui grew up with her cousins, and her grandmother and uncle were like her parents. Chaohui's nurturing and compassionate personality is partly the result of being raised by her grandmother and uncle--they were both kind souls that bent over backwards to help people that were less fortunate, although they themselves were living in poverty. Whenever a beggar passed their house, they'd give half their meal to the beggar, and what they had were pitifully scarce already. To this day, the virtue of compassion is still ingrained in Chaohui's daily life. I can't remember just how many times I've seen her sending money to disaster reliefs, giving money to charities, donating money to people in hardship, buying food for homeless people..etc.


Actress and Model

When she was fourteen, Chaohui was spotted by a film director, and she became an actress and model for several years, starring in feature films, TV shows, commercials, music videos, and modeling for print. During the height of her popularity, there'd be giant billboard ads featuring her all over the city, and up to three different TV commercials for different products starring her in one night. However, Chaohui wasn't interested in the entertainment industry, and slowly started turning down acting and modeling jobs. By her early twenties, she stopped acting and modeling completely.


Two Years of Nightmare

Right after Chaohui finished her first film, her parents moved her back to live with them for two years, and she was forbidden to do any more acting or modeling. In fact, she was forbidden to make the first film unless she handed over all the money to her mother. Those two years were the worst years of her life, because she soon learned what a horrible woman her mother was.

Chaohui was abused by her mother and treated like a slave at home, with no freedom whatsoever. Her mother would constantly scream at her, ridicule her, hit her, and Chaohui was made to do all the housework, not allowed to have any personal freetime, and still expected to get good grades. When her mother was angry, she'd take it out on Chaohui, doing terrible things like ripping up all her school textbooks or grabbing her by the hair and smashing her face into the wall. Chaohui's life at home was so bad that her teachers asked her in private, "Is that terrible woman your real mother, or is she a step-mother?" Chaohui's father is basically a spineless coward who went along with everything his wife said or did, even if he knew she was wrong, and when he wasn't siding with Chaohui's mother, he was asking Chaohui for money.

When Chaohui started getting attention from men, her mother was jealous and furious. She made Chaohui wear ugly clothes and ugly hairdos on purpose so that Chaohui would attract less attention from men. When Chaohui's older brother visited her one day (he was raised by his grandfather), he commented that Chaohui's face resembled that of a plastic puppet--expressionless and souless, with absolutely no joy whatsoever. As soon as Chaohui was legally allowed to work fulltime, she moved out of her parents' house like a bat out of hell.


Scary Pandas

When Chaohui was seventeen, she held her first "real job," as a panda caretaker at the zoo--living with and taking care of pandas. While working as a panda caretaker, Chaohui was making 45 RMB a month (roughly $5 USD a month), and her mother made her hand over 35 RMB a month, leaving only 10 RMB a month for Chaohui to live on. According to Chaohui, the public has a dangerously false impression of pandas--result of the propoganda fed by the people who would benefit from the public's interest in pandas. In reality, pandas are not cute or cuddly at all--they are exactly like bears, and they would not think twice about pouncing someone and chew/claw that person to death. She's personally witnessed horror stories of panda attacks on her co-workers, while she's been gnawed and swiped on a few times herself. (All the caretakers were young women--for the sake of publicity, because they looked good on stage while performing with the pandas. What's more adorable than a cute girl walking or feeding a cute panda?)

While working at the zoo, she had to deal with a lecherous zoo supervisor who was infamous for taking advantage of the girls working there. When he crossed the line and tried to get physical with her, Chaohui stabbed him in his hand with a tiny kitchen knife she had been keeping in her purse, and ran to an army base nearby to get help (she was aware he had targeted her and might make a move, so she was prepared to fight him off). Afterward, she tried to bring him to justice, but he had lots of connections and used every bit of it to discredit her, and even managed to turn everyone against her (claiming that she seduced him and then tried to destroy him--typical shaming tactics used by all the rapists in the world). Even though people working at the zoo all knew he was full of it, they were afraid of him due to his connections, so they had to take his side during the police investigation. Of course, when those reverse accusations reached her mother's ears, she had a field day, because it proved her right in thinking that her daughter's a bad person--a sly fox that deserved to be beaten and mistreated.

In the end, Chaohui's charges against the zoo supervisor were ineffective, and the case had to be dropped. After that incident, she couldn't stay at the zoo any more. Getting attacked by the pandas was bad enough, and getting attacked by people too was just too much for a young teenage girl.


Working In Hong Kong

After the panda caretaking job, Chaohui opted for office jobs where dangerous animals are limited to odious bosses. She also took night classes and finished high school during that time. In her early twenties, she was transferred to Hong kong, where she worked for a year in a real estate company. Living in Hong Kong was a turning point in her life because she experienced life in a major modern city--one that was far more advanced than a city like Fuzhou. What she learned in Hong Kong would become key in her later success as an entrepreneur. Right before leaving Hong Kong, Chaohui became gravely ill due to a lung infection. She had no idea just how serious her illness was, and continued to pack her stuff and shopping for gifts to bring back to family and friends. The moment she stepped off the airplane in Fuzhou, she collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. According to the doctor, if she had sought treatment just a day later, she would've been dead (that's twice she escaped death).


Curse of the Horrible Woman

Chaohui's sister told her later that her mother had placed a curse on Chaohui on the morning of Chinese New Year's Eve (which is believed to the most powerful day for putting a curse on someone), and had wished for her to die in Hong Kong. And why did she do it? Because she was unsatisfied with the amount of money Chaohui was sending home, and when Chaohui had no more money to send home, the horrible woman blew up at her and cursed her. (Whether you believe in voodoo or in science is irrelevant--it's the fact that her mother would do such a thing...)



After she moved back to Fuzhou, Chaohui spent two years in school and got a college-equivalent diploma in finance. She then found a partner and borowed money to start up a comsmetic shop. Chaohui worked like a dog to get the business off the ground, and single-handedly turned it into a success (her partner was off in England somewhere). Soon after, she also opened up a restaurant with a few partners. The restaurant was also an instant success--so much so that they had to take over the store next to them and expanded to three floors. To this day, the restaurant is still filled to the brim with customers, and is considered a miracle by many in the restaurant business. The cosmetic shop was closed down two years ago, because foreign big name brands had made their way into China and have their own specialty shops and counters in department stores, making survival hard for independent shops.


Good-bye, Horrible Woman

Chaohui's mother kept on demanding money from Chaohui throughout the years, and when she started stalking Chaohui by making crank calls to cuss at her, and also making threats to trash her businesses, Chaohui decided that enough was enough--she severed all ties with her mother. Further harrassment from her mother resulted in a verbal warning from Chaohui, stating that legal action will be taken if her mother persists to make threats or make crank phone calls, and that was the last time they ever spoke to each other. However, despite ending her relationship with her mother, Chaohui still secretly sent money to her parents each month and asked her sister to pretend that the money is not from her, but from her sister instead. After watching her do that for about two years, I told her to stop because it's just pointless to do that for such an evil person, and her parents are living comfortably off of their retirement fund already.


When Two Hearts Met

Chaohui met me in October 2001, and if you want a more detailed account of how we met and married, you can see it here (2/3 down the page of my bio page). You can see our wedding album here.


How She Became Elena

When she was working in Hong Kong, one of her co-workers decided for some reason to nickname her Tina--which Elena didn't object to, but never really cared for either. After we met, one day we had a conversation about what she'd like to have as her legal name when she moves back to the U.S. with me. I personally feel that it's kinda pointless to use one's Chinese name when living in a western country, because the name becomes meaningless when spoken or spelled phonetically with English alphabets, and it's hard for others to memorize or relate to (not to mention the pronunciation is always completely butchered--to the point of if you are waiting for an appointment and your name gets called, you're never quite sure if the person is actually calling your name). (Japanese names on the other hand are different, because they are similar to western names where many people can have the same first name, and they are much easier for English speakers to pronounce.) So, we actually searched on the internet for all kinds of names, and even asked online friends in forums for suggestions. After looking over all the choices, Elena was the name she liked best, and that's how she became Elena.


Life Today

Elena's family and friends always thought of her as this "ultra modern feminist superwoman entrepreneur," but they were all wrong, as nothing could be further from the truth. All she ever really wanted was to be a happily married housewife--all that other stuff were just things she did while waiting for the right man to come along (unfortunately for her, that man was me). Now that she's happily married and has become an awesome housewife (no complaints from me), she's as happy as a clam. In her own words, "My main goal and joy in life now is to take care of my husband and be a happy little housewife--everything else is secondary. I never really liked being an entrepreneur, and I'd pick being a housewive over being some superwoman anyday." Hey, don't look at me--having grown up in the very progressive San Francisco Bay Area, I haven't got a single chauvinistic bone in my body. Like I said, everyone was wrong about her--she doesn't want to be a famous actress/model, nor does she wants to be a successful business woman--she just wants a simple life at home.

In her spare time, Elena enjoys reading (novels, books on history, philosophy, art, psychology..etc), watching movies (she loves horror, sci-fi/fantasy, thrillers, and dramas), decorating the house, researching health and beauty tips, and taking care of her gardens. She's not prone to any collector/fan-girl behavior--she wouldn't really call herself a big fan of anyone or anything in particular, and she certainly would never bother standing in line for hours to get anyone's autograph or see a show. If you asked her to name her top 10 favorite this or that, she would most likely draw a blank after the first few and get bored of the subject (I've tried). Of course, if I press her, she'll get cute and say that she's my biggest fan, and making me happy is her only hobby. As sickeningly sweet as that may sound to some people, it's pretty much the truth. Some people might think it's horrible that she has the "traditional Asian woman" mentality, but remember, that's what makes her happy, and it's what she's always wanted. I used to jokingly tease her about the fact that she doesn't have any lofty ambitions or big dreams, until one day I realized she's already living her dream, and I'm actually envious of her. How many people can say they are living the dream they've had since they were children?

She turned 40 in 2011 (she's two years older than me), and despite having entering middle-age, the two of us still act like playful children at home, chasing each other all over the house, laughing and screaming. I'm sure our refusal to grow up helps keep her looking youthful (I'm also envious of the fact she looks so much younger than me). The up side is, we can continue to shoot the Kitty Cat Diary for a while longer (we used to think we might have to stop when she turns 40, because we had no idea how gracefully she'd age). The photos below are from the last few years (2011~2013), and it looks like we have at least a few more years before we have to call it quits and start acting like our age. But knowing us, we'd probably still act like dorks even when our hair have turned white, shuffling after each other while laughing and screaming.