Sunday, December 20, 2009

A "Joyous" Flu

The last part of our trip with Grandma Chu, my in-laws, and the twin babies was an extended stay in the Seattle area so that all the great-grandparents could bond with the babies. From Montana, we drove across Idaho and Washington and went straight to my mom’s family’s summer cabin on Camano Island in Puget Sound. All that side of the family was there. It was lots of fun. My in-laws really enjoyed being out on the woods and walking on the beach. My uncle and brother took Pa and Yuni clam digging on Grandpa Ryder’s beach at low low tide, and we had a feast of butter clams. Uncle Wally also taught Yuni the finer points of cribbage. He was fine with the addition in Chinese, but it was hard for him to do mental arithmetic and then call the numbers in English. But he is pretty competitive, as are my uncles and brother, so by the end of our time there, he was holding his own. What he lost at the cribbage board, he more than made up for at the badminton field. He also learned the joys of pitching horse shoes.

Pa Liu just could not get over the idea of a vacation home. He thoroughly enjoyed himself, but he was really having a hard time wrapping his mind around an acre of land devoted to nothing but family pleasure. My grandmother had flowers planted in a small garden near the cabin, but most of the land was just naturally wooded. There was the grassy driveway, and then a clearing for the cabin on the bluff above the beach. To one side of the cabin there was the volleyball/badminton/croquet field and the barbecue area. When Grandpa was in politics, he used to use have his Hawaiian secretary fly in the ingredients and hold genuine luaus complete with whole roast pig and poi that cooked underground in the sandy soil at the edge of the barbecue pit. We didn’t do anything that fancy just for family.

After several days at “The Island,” we all went back into Seattle to spend time with the Zimmerman relatives and get ready for Grammie Zimmerman’s 80th birthday party. Grammie had purchased fancy pink dresses for the girls. They looked kind of funny with their little bald heads, but they were one of the main attractions of the party. My experience of the party was very different from what my life used to be before children. I don’t remember much of what went on because I was always changing this one or feeding that one or getting a spare wipe from the diaper bag. I did manage to get into the family picture, but I’m not quite sure how that happened. I heard from all my relatives who could pay attention that the party was a huge success. I think I even managed to eat a piece of birthday cake.

One of the most interesting things to me, my mom, and my American grandmothers was how well Ma Liu and Grandma Chu could communicate without words. The doting grandmas and great-grandmas would whisk the babies off and play and laugh and get along famously, so that I could translate for Pa and Yuni and the men. Ma Liu and Grandma Chu were able to use body language to obtain water for formula, changing tables, towels, and pretty much anything else that the babies needed. They did not feel as much need for translation, and the Chinese “sisterhood” of the bedroom extended into the American family. When I had finished translating for the men, Ma would pull me aside and ask me to interpret several hours’ worth of stored up comments, if there was time. But they really communicated quite well without my services. By the end of our stay, Ma and Grandma Chu could both say “thank you” and “water.”

Our month of vacation soon ended. We took our seats in business class, and headed back to Taiwan. School was starting, and I had new classes to teach at the Gloria English School. I was also starting in my new position as Director of the Business School English conversation program at Chung Yuan University. I had been made English Secretary to the President of the University the previous semester. Pa and Yuni had a number of construction jobs, and the family business was flourishing. All the uncles were surprised at how well Grandma Chu had managed to adapt to life in America. She had learned to drink fresh skim milk. She had also learned how to use a knife and fork. And she could speak a couple of words of English. Her favorite picture from the trip was the one of her and Ma standing by the side of the road in Yellowstone with the flaming trees in the background and a helicopter flying in with a bucket of water. I think the entire town of Toufen eventually heard the story of her adventures in the forest fire and about what she had learned at the smoke jumper’s school.

And just as life was settling into a comfortable routine, I began throwing up every morning. I did not have a fever or any other symptoms, and at first I thought I had eaten something spoiled. But when I couldn’t keep food down for several days in a row, I went to the doctor because I was worried about passing germs to the babies. The doctor examined me, and then he laughed and gave me a cup. He told me to go into the bathroom and produce a specimen. When I emerged, the nurse was waiting with a little paper strip. After a few minutes, she and the doctor came into the examination room with big smiles on their faces, proclaiming: “You have joy!” I had a hard time believing the diagnosis, so I went to the ob-gyn. He confirmed that my “flu” was a joyous one. He was a bit less sanguine than the general practitioner had been because he knew that I had five month old twins. He suggested an abortion. That night I went home and discussed the diagnosis with the family. Ma, in particular, was quite distressed at the idea of killing a potential grandchild. Pa promised to call all the unmarried daughters home to help. Yuni wanted the child, but he said the decision was mine. I couldn’t bear the thought of killing my own child, either. So against the advice of the ob-gyn, we decided to go through with having the baby. It is a decision that I have never regretted. Fortunately, since it was not another set of twins, the morning sickness ended fairly quickly.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Four Generations Touring the US

Sorry for the delay in posting. Final papers this semester have been trickier than expected. The professors are making us turn in the drafts and rewrite extensively. None of the old turn in the paper and pray for an A that I am used to. I am down to 4 more days of school with one project, one presentation, and one final left to go.
When the twins were about three months old, my father called us and asked if we could bring them to the US for my grandmother’s eightieth birthday party. At first Yuni and I thought the four of us would go by ourselves, but as we considered the long trans-Pacific plane ride, we thought it might be better if we had some help. We asked my in-laws, and they were both quite happy to accompany us to America to meet my family.

The first order of business was to get the visas. The girls and I were US citizens, and my parents-in-law were old enough that they qualified for express visa service. But Yuni was a problem; the American Institute in Taipei could not fathom that we would want to live in Taiwan instead of in America. They wanted Yuni to wait until he had his green card. At the time, we had no plans to live in the US. Finally, after showing them proof of property in Taiwan plus letters from MY employers and the association of building contractors vouching for the family business, he was given a one-time entry visa to the US. We started looking for plane reservations.

Ma and Pa went to Toufen to visit the relatives in Central Taiwan and let them know about our proposed adventure. They came home, and Ma was rather agitated that day as we were cooking together. Finally, it came out that Grandma Chu wanted to tag along to see the world. She had not even been to Taipei before our wedding, so taking her on a plane to another country was going to be something else. Grandma Chu had diabetes and needed frequent snacks with protein. She was also afraid of the Taiwanese “ghost month,” which was right about the time we were traveling in mid-summer. It is the 7th month of the lunar calendar and falls in July or August. My mother-in-law assured her that since Yuni and I were Christians, Jesus would protect her, and nothing would go wrong. The maternal uncles were in a quandary. None of them dared take their mother on a trip abroad in case something happened and the rest of the family blamed them for sending their mother to an early grave. A couple of them were not so sure that I would be any better protection. Finally, Youngest Maternal Uncle put up the money so that all of us could travel business class on the airplane. He said that he would take full blame if anything happened. I also had him buy Grandma Chu an international health insurance policy.

We got Grandma’s passport and visa very quickly. The next step was finding business class seats for a group of seven. Since we were going to America with Grandma in tow, my father-in-law and the uncles said that we should take them sightseeing to several places in America. Washington, DC, Yellowstone Park, and the Grand Canyon were mentioned. I contacted my friends and relatives, and we laid out an itinerary. We were able to purchase an extra “travel America” ticket for just $50 each that took us to two extra stops in the US. We decided to arrive early and do our traveling so that the babies would be adjusted to the time change before the big birthday party at the end of August.

It was actually pretty nice in the airports between the business class tickets, the elderly lady, and the four-month old babies. Our first stop was Seattle, where we stayed for a day and met the family. My dad took the babies, so we could sleep for a day to recover from the long plane ride. The next day we headed off to visit Cousin Brian in Washington, DC. We also visited my friends from college and church that were still in the area. We went to the Smithsonian and the National Zoo and we saw the Capitol. One of my Grandpa’s friends was in the Senate, so we all had our pictures taken with a US Senator. The people from church held a potluck dinner in our honor, and one of my friends crocheted bootie sandals for the tropical babies. Grandma Chu and the babies held up amazingly well.

From DC we flew to Denver where my mom was living. We stayed with her for a few days and went sightseeing in Denver. Estes Park was particularly nice. Mom rented a large fifteen passenger van to drive with us from Denver to Seattle by way of Yellowstone National Park. Mom had the routes picked out with the help of Triple A, but she didn’t know what things would be interesting to my relatives who spoke no English. On the first day out, we stopped at an old gold mine and went panning for gold. Mom and I took care of the babies while Yuni, his parents, and grandmother all squatted next to the stream for an hour or so. They got enough for two full bottles of gold flakes, and Pa Liu bought chains so that Ma and Grandma Chu each had a new necklace.

Outside of Yellowstone we stopped at a motel that had flyers for a rodeo. Mom and I left the others resting in the hotel, while we went to scope it out. It looked like something they might enjoy, so we bought our tickets. That was one of the high points of the trip for Grandma Chu and Ma. They just loved the crazy people trying to ride the bulls. Pa told us stories of how he had herded and ridden the family’s water buffalo when he was a boy. He could not understand why American bulls were so ornery. We explained to him about the hooks in the stomach cinch. He was not too happy about that. But he did like the clowns, and the fact that the bulls took every opportunity to get revenge when the cowboys went down.

The drive through Yellowstone was particularly memorable. We were there in the middle of a huge forest fire. The helicopters went back and forth overhead scooping water out of the river to dump on the flames. At one point the trees across the road were on fire. Traffic was stopped until the fire fighters had gotten the flames extinguished. Ma and Grandma Chu took the opportunity to jump out of the car for a photo op. Grandma Chu wanted her sons to see that she was hardy enough to drive through a forest fire. (This was propaganda to get them to take her on their next trip to Southeast Asia. It was quite successful.) We were able to see Old Faithful and some of the hot springs, but the best fun for my relatives was driving through the forest fire and watching the helicopters douse the flames.

When we got out of Yellowstone, we were in remote areas of the country. The old folks couldn’t believe how long we would travel without seeing a house or anything. There were not too many Chinese restaurants in that part of the country, and Grandma Chu learned to adapt to traditional American cooking. She did quite well at controlling her diabetes. We went to a smoke jumper school in Montana, which was quite interesting after our experiences in Yellowstone. Another high point in Montana was the tour of a silver mine near the Montana-Idaho border. (to be continued…)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Photo Collage: Four Generations on a Road Trip

When the twins were three months old, we got an invitation to bring them to my Grammie Zimmerman's 80th birthday party at the end of August. My parents-in-law and Yuni's grandmother Chu also came along for the ride. We visited family all over the US, including Cousin Brian and Cousin Jill who were living in northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. I got lazy this weekend with too much holiday and no real homework, and I did not write the post I had been planning. There are tons of pictures from the trip, so enjoy the preview!

Four generations of Zimmerman descendants

Truth and Love with the Zimmerman cousins

At the US Capitol

At the Ryder summer place on Camano Island

At Carnation Farms in Washington State

Cousin Jill and Cousin Amy with the twins

With Cousin Brian's family in Dulles Airport

At the hotel in Bellevue, WA the first night in the US. My dad is so proud to be a grandpa!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sad News about Some Interpretation Clients

On November 2, 3, and 4, I helped China Aid Association in my capacity as a free-lance Chinese-English translator/interpreter. They had brought a group of six human rights lawyers from China to testify before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The lawyers then flew to California to attend a symposium on stopping religious violence at Pepperdine University. They also had meetings with Pepperdine faculty and gave a presentation to the students at Pepperdine Law School. I was one of the interpreters for those functions. On their way out of town several of the lawyers, including Jiang Tianyong (see below), came to Cal State Long Beach and spoke with one of our International Studies classes about internet freedom, human rights issues, and democracy in China.

These lawyers all said that China has great laws on paper, but the laws are not enforced in favor of the people. The lawyers work to ensure that members of any religion or people in freedom of speech cases have legal representation. The lawyers themselves pay a big price to to this. Jiang Tianyong is a Christian; he has defended many Christians in house churches. He also helped defend the so-called "Living Buddha" in Sichuan last year, and he frequently takes on Falun Gong cases because the government is so anti-Falun Gong that almost no lawyers will defend the accused in such cases. The lawyers take these cases because they believe that the only hope for China is adherence to "rule of law."

The rest of this post is copied from the China Aid website. If you go to the website at, you will see another article about other lawyers from the group who were interrogated and placed under surveillance. You can also access the audio files of the testimony before the Human Rights Commisson.

Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong and one of my interpretation clients.

Chinese Human Rights Attorney Jiang Tianyong Arrested and His Wife Beaten in Front of Their Daughter

Attorney Jiang Tianyong recently returned from a tour in the US exposing the abusive treatment of human rights lawyers in China.

Contacts: Annee Kahler, Media CoordinatorTel: (267) 210-8278, or

Jenny McCloy, Director of Advocacy, Washington DCTel: (202) 213-0506, or Jenny@ChinaAid.orgWebsite: and
November 19, 2009

BEIJING--At 7:40 AM (Beijing time) on Nov. 19, Jiang Tianyong and his wife attempted to leave their home to take their daughter to school, when they were barred from leaving the apartment building by Public Security Bureau officers assembled at the gate. Before Jiang could speak with them, four officers grabbed him violently and forced him into a police car. A police officer named Wang Tao threw his wife to the ground and began striking her. Jiang's 7-year-old daughter cried helplessly as she watched her father being dragged away to detention by the officers.

Jiang Tianyong was arrested and held in detention at the Yangfangdian PSB office of Haidian District, Beijing for over 13 hours, under the guard of Officers Li Aimin and Wang Tao. He was allowed only one meal during his detention. A dozen human rights lawyers rallied in front of the station to demand Jiang's release and to show support for their colleague. He was released at 9:26 PM (Beijing time) to return home to his family.

Immediately after learning of Jiang's arrest, ChinaAid contacted the US Embassy in Beijing and several U.S. Congressional offices, notifying them of Jiang Tianyong's brutal treatment and detention. A US Embassy official quickly responded and said that the Embassy had called the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and formally registered the U.S. Government's concern and opposition to this action. The embassy further reported the incident to the National Security Council and the State Department, all prior to Jiang's release.

Jiang Tianyong had just returned to Beijing on Tuesday, November 17, after touring the United States for 4 weeks and speaking out on the unjust treatment of human rights lawyers in China. On several occasions, he and the other five Chinese human rights defenders on the tour advised U.S. officials to encourage President Obama to meet with human rights lawyers and speak out on religious freedom while visiting China. Read Jiang Tianyong's Testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Hear his remarks at the National Press Club and at the hearing in Washington, DC.

Fearing the lawyers would become targets upon their return, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission co-chair Frank Wolf of Virginia warned against ill-treatment upon the lawyers' return: "If any of them are arrested or harrassed when they get back, I will do everything I can to just create the biggest problem possible for the Obama adminsitration and for the Chinese government." Yesterday, on November 18, Jiang Tianyong and a fellow legal researcher attempted to arrange a meeting with President Obama before he left China, hoping to follow through with the lawyers' request for US acknowlegement of the current dire situation. After receiving a phone call from the U.S. Embassy, informing him President Obama would not be able to meet with the group of five human rights lawyers who had gathered, 200 police officers immediately pulled up, and interrogated Jiang and one of his colleagues in the hotel for over an hour. They were informed they "were not allowed to meet President Obama" and would "be held until he left" yesterday afternoon.The brutal assault of Jiang Tianyong, his wife, and their daughter is an unjust an inexcusable attack on the rights of peaceful Chinese citizens. Jiang's family now suffers even more from this abuse, as their well-being was taxed after Jiang's license to practice law was revoked and his tenure at the Beijing Global Law Firm was terminated in April of this year. ChinaAid denounces the cruel and inhumane treatment of human rights Attorney Jiang Tianyong. We urge the Chinese authorities to stop their harassment of Attorney Jiang and the other human rights lawyers and their families who have been detained during President Obama's visit.

ChinaAid further calls on the international community to pray for healing from this unjust persecution, in the wake of Jiang's courageous tour in the United States, and to call on American leaders to voice their opposition to human rights abuses in China.

EDITOR'S NOTE OF CORRECTION: In our e-mail to our ChinaAid subscribers sent this morning, we reported that Jiang Tianyong was beaten and then dragged away by four police officers. This information was taken from our Chinese media contact in Beijing who misinterpreted the events. Jiang Tianyong was violently seized and forced into a police car, but was not beaten. His wife was beaten by Officer Wang Tao in front of their 7-year-old daughter. We apologize for the mis-report, and will continue to offer breaking news of the events as they transform.

Raise your concerns on Jiang's behalf to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.;
Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong
3505 International Place, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: (202) 495-2000Fax: (202) 588-9760
Chinese Embassy Press Secretary Baodong, Tel: 202-495-2218

NOTE: If you are a citizen of another country, please click here to find the contact information of the Chinese embassy in your own nation
ChinaAid grants permission to reproduce photos and/or information for non-fundraising purposes, with the provision that is credited. Please contact: with questions or requests for further information.

Green Shoots of Democracy

Some readers may remember that when I first arrived in Taiwan, it was under martial law. The government was quite wary about foreigners who disappeared in mainland China for a week, and at one point my friends from church had to pull strings and get high-ranking government officials, who were also church members, to vouch for me when I got back from my Bible smuggling forays. In 1987, Chiang Kai-shek’s son and the president of Taiwan at that time declared an end to martial law. Ordinary people could visit relatives in mainland China by way of a third country, and political parties could form. Local elections began to be freer. Members of non-Kuomintang political parties could run as “non-party” candidates in municipal and county elections.

Just before the twins were born, Chiang Chin-kuo passed away from a heart attack. His successor was a native-born Taiwanese (with Fukienese Hakka roots) named Lee Teng-hui. President Lee continued his predecessor’s policies of loosening the KMT’s political control on the island, and that spring, about the time the kids were born, the first semi-free elections were held.

During my early years, when I was still going to school, I had been shocked at the lack of political freedoms in the supposedly “free, democratic” Republic of China. Friends in the States had warned me not to talk politics with people in Taiwan, as it could be dangerous. After a few strange arguments with roommates during my first year, I had taken their advice. Once, Teacher had explained to us that the KMT lost the mainland, in part, because peasants were not ready for democratic rule. When they arrived in Taiwan, they decided to do things differently. First, they built up the economy and the standard of living so that the populace would have time to thoughtfully consider political questions. Next, they focused on education. The KMT believed that the high rates of illiteracy in the mainland had contributed to their downfall. They did not open up elections until even the remotest mountain villages had electricity, running water, daily mail deliveries, and television broadcasts. They also brought the literacy rate among the younger generation up to almost 90% and waited for these people to attain their majority before opening up the elections. Of course, prior to the competitive elections, there had been elections with choices between KMT candidates. This enabled the entire population to grow accustomed to the idea of choosing the best person for the job.

I soon discovered the wisdom behind these measures.

Not long after I married into the Liu family, it was electioneering time. The government limited the time for campaigning, and I truly believe this was wise. Since a large number of elderly people in Taiwan were illiterate, each candidate was given a number. The parties were color-coded with KMT candidates having blue and red banners, and other candidates having white with a colored border. The candidates would affix loudspeakers on the cabs of little pickup trucks to which they attached large banners in the back with the pictures of the candidates and their colored numbers. These trucks would roam the cities blaring music and political messages. Hordes of political helpers would go door to door canvassing for the candidates. Each house would be given towels, soaps, or other small gifts wrapped in the appropriate colors with the numbers on top. Frequently an envelope of money was enclosed inside the gift. The candidates held rallies in vacant lots with loudspeakers, singers, lion dancers, and other entertainment to attract the crowds to listen to the candidate speak. Most of the speeches that I heard in the first election were pretty much the same: “Please, please vote for me. I am a good person. Thank you all for your support.” The streets were in constant chaos, and when the candidates had popular singers performing for them, all traffic had to find another route.

My father-in-law was very serious about voting in this first election with real choices. He accepted all gifts and then figured out how many votes the family had. One candidate who was running for a seat on the county council had the last name of Liu. Pa decided that all the family’s votes would go to him even though he had not given much in the way of money. For the other positions, he apportioned out the votes based on the value of gifts. Some got two votes, some three, some only got one.

His schemes lasted exactly as long as it took for his educated children to tell him that they were not going to have any part of them. Then the whole family sat down and talked about democracy and policy and what to look for in elected officials. Since my family in America had a long history in politics and I had even worked as an intern and assistant in a US Senator’s office, I was called in to give the American perspective on things. The kids drilled into their parents that they needed to follow the news and to be wary of corruption. The Liu children felt that no one should vote for any candidate who had given money. This concept was hard for the parents to accept at first. I do not know who each of the family members voted for in those first elections. I know that Pa and Ma did vote for the candidate with the last name of Liu. All the children voted for the people they felt were best qualified for the job.

I do know that since those elections, and even today, Pa has followed political news very closely. He works on campaigns for the candidates he feels are best and has become a very active citizen. He is very happy to have the right to influence his government. At first, some of the family members were ashamed of the way members of the Taiwanese parliament fought with each other in the chambers. They thought that I must be laughing at their country, since we were beyond that in America. I did tell them that things like that had happened in American history, that American politicians had even dueled to the death over political issues about which they were passionate. I told them that as long as the people were passionate and involved in politics, it would be harder for politicians to get away with graft and corruption. I believe that history in Taiwan has proved the validity of my views. The elections in Taiwan have gotten cleaner and cleaner, and the past president of Taiwan is now sitting in jail for corruption that occurred during his administration. Taiwanese politics really have come a long way in just a short period of time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Life with Babies

Our nuclear family

Two-month old "couch potatoes"

Twins in the stroller out for a walk

On a hike
Now that we had babies, the benefits of a multi-generational household became quickly manifest. The Lius love babies, especially their own. At the end of my forty days, Pa ordered several tables of food and held a feast for the relatives and neighbors. We had three tables inside and two or three out in the alley in front of the house. At the “full month” celebration, they ate chicken and rice wine soup, pork hock and peanut stew (highly recommended for nursing mothers), and hard-boiled eggs dyed red as featured dishes. Of course, there were many other courses, too. Family members, who had not yet given the babies presents, gave red envelopes of money or solid gold baby rings. That feast marked my re-entry into society and the end of my confinement. I had to go back to work the following Monday.

Ma officially retired from construction work to take care of the babies. Since I usually worked in the afternoons and evenings, we worked out a schedule that divided the work. Yuni and I had the babies in our room all night, and I continued caring for them in the morning while Ma did the laundry. I would feed the babies and then put them in the double stroller (a gift from my American family). We would go out for a walk in the cool of the morning. By the end of the walk, the babies were usually ready for a morning nap, so I would clean the house, paying special attention to the floors.

Ma could spend all morning with the laundry. She gossiped with the neighbors who were doing washing on their roofs. She puttered in her rooftop herb and vegetable garden, and she hung all the clothes out to dry on bamboo poles under the eaves and an awning. She usually didn’t come down from doing the laundry until almost 11:00. By that time the babies were awake and hungry. We would each take one and feed her. Then I made lunch for Ma and me while she played with the babies. After lunch Ma and the babies took a nap in Yuntian’s room off the kitchen while I got ready and left for work.

While I was gone, Ma would play with the babies, feed them, give them a bath, and take them out for a walk in the early evening after it started to get cool. Ma and her daughters got dinner for the family. I would grab something at a noodle shop near my school between classes. When Pa and Yuni got home in the evening, they would take the babies while Ma and the girls cleaned up after dinner. Their method of babysitting usually consisted of holding the babies on their laps while they watched their TV shows and talking to the babies during commercials. After the dishes were done, my sisters-in-law would play with the kids. By the time I got home after class, the babies were tired out and ready to go upstairs to bed.

When Ma had first gotten married, Yuni’s grandfather told her that if she wanted smart children, she needed to talk to them from the time they were born. When she was playing with them or doing housework or taking the babies for their walk, Ma kept up a running patter to the kids. She would point out different kinds of birds that they could see lying in the stroller. She would tell them what she was cooking. As she was changing their diapers, she told them how much it cost for a package of diapers and why their parents had to work so hard. She also told them that when they got older they would need to work hard and earn money, too. She would tell them about the formula powder as she prepared their bottles. And she insisted that I keep up a running patter with them in English when I was caring for the kids. Ma and Pa only spoke to the babies in the Hakka dialect. I only spoke to them in English, and Yuni and his siblings only spoke to them in Mandarin Chinese. We were experimenting with a method for producing multi-lingual children that I had read about in a linguistics class at Georgetown. Each adult only speaks one language to the child from birth, and the child begins to associate the language with the adult’s face. Children raised this way learn to talk a little bit more slowly, but they usually become fluent in several languages.

My relatives had sent me numerous books on child-rearing while I was pregnant. I had great plans for how I was going to raise my children. I was not going to give them sugar until they were three years old. I was going to limit their time in front of the television. I was going to read to them every evening. I had so many plans. And all of them, except for reading to the children every day, went out the window as my husband’s family threw themselves exuberantly into loving their grandchildren.

The entire Liu family watched TV for several hours every evening when they got home from work. Since I was out teaching then, the children were included in the nightly TV watching ritual. Fortunately, for all of us, TV transmission was limited to several hours at noon and several hours in the evening. For most of the day, the TV was dark. And then there was the matter of sugar. Pa Liu has a sweet tooth. And he began buying suckers for the girls before they even had teeth. Several times a week, Pa came home with large, hard suckers that they couldn’t choke on. He always bought three: one for each of the girls and one for himself. And they would sit on the couch in the evenings watching TV and sucking on their candy. The only adjustment I was able to make in this matter was to convince him that the girls should not have their candy before they had eaten their regular food.

At first I got mad at these set backs to my grand plans for child-rearing. But upon reflection, I realized that the Lius had managed to raise seven children to adulthood in the face of terrible hardships. All their children were honest, hard-working, and well-adjusted. They were also very smart. If the worst thing I could say about my children was that they had bad teeth because of a doting grandfather, things would be very good for them, indeed. So I just made sure that the girls first had their milk and then later their rice and vegetables before they were given their dessert. And everyone was quite happy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Home from the hospital



My "HOPE" baby, Truth


Dad and daughter

By the end of 30 days, I had gotten pretty good at handling twins. (Notice the leg action involved.)

In Taiwan, and even throughout much of Eastern Asia, women rest for a month or more after giving birth. During this time, they eat special foods, bond with their babies, receive visitors, and are governed by a whole raft of traditions. When we were in school, Teacher had discussed these confinements with us as we had had Chinese friends who had gone into confinement after giving birth. Teacher said that China was a poor agrarian country for most of its history. The average woman did not have access to a nutritious diet or prenatal vitamins during pregnancy. The period of confinement with its requirements for calcium-rich foods gave women a chance to replace the nutrients that had been leached from their bodies during pregnancy. It was also one of the few times women were allowed to rest before old age. Teacher noted that she personally knew women who had not been able to go into confinement due to the wars in China in the first half of the twentieth century. Many of these women had lost their teeth, and a large number had developed joint and bone problems in their thirties. Centuries of tradition taught Chinese women that failing to properly handle the month after pregnancy could cause arthritis and osteoporosis.

I agreed with Teacher’s assessment that the confinement tradition most probably came about due to food shortages. When a woman is in confinement with a new baby, all the friends, relatives, and neighbors come to see the new baby and to give gifts of nutritious foods for the mother. In this way, a family that might not have been able to give its pregnant women the best nutrition due to limited resources had a better chance of replenishing the nutrients leached out during pregnancy with the greater resources of the community at large. Of course, I had been taking horse-sized prenatal vitamins, so I was not sure that this applied to me. I noticed that most of my well-nourished Chinese friends went into their first confinement skinny and came out quite heavy. I was not sure I wanted to follow suit.

The tradition varies slightly from region to region in China. Each region, each family even, has its own special confinement rituals and foods. In general, for 30 to 40 days after a new baby is born, the mother and child stay in a tightly-closed room. No windows are allowed to be open. No fans can blow on them, even in the height of summer. The mother, in particular, wears long-sleeved pajamas. In the summer, the fabric can be light-weight, but the clothes need to be gathered at wrists and ankles, so no air can blow on the woman’s joints. Some traditions say the woman should not even sit up in bed for long periods of time but must lie flat on a board bed to protect her lower back.
Food is brought to her. Most families in Taiwan believe the woman should eat one entire chicken per day. It is served to her in soup. My husband’s Hakka family’s recipe called for chicken and rice wine soup. No water or vegetables could sully the broth. The recipe went pretty much like this: boil together one whole chicken, two bottles of rice wine, and several different herbs from the Chinese apothecary. We had attended several “Full Month” parties when Yuni’s cousins and their babies were allowed to come out of their rooms into society again at the end of confinement. The prime delicacy at those parties is chicken and rice wine soup. I could not stomach the stuff.

Fortunately for me, the doctor told my mother-in-law that I should not have alcohol or my incision might bleed. I was also supposed to drink lots of water and eat vegetables because my intestines had been moved during the operation. We needed to promote intestinal health, or my intestines would stick together and I would need more surgery. So my mother-in-law and I began to negotiate about what I would and would not eat during my confinement. My mother-in-law was all set to serve me a chicken a day in various types of soups. I told her that I would not be able to stomach that much chicken, and that I could eat a variety of calcium-rich foods with the same effect. So we decided that I would have a rotation of chicken and shitake mushroom soup, chicken and ginseng soup with jizi (a Chinese herb), pork bone and seaweed soup, and of course, plenty of melted ice cream. I would also get rice and plates of steamed vegetables because the old wives’ tales said that too much grease gives breast-fed babies the runs.

Next, we began to negotiate about the “lying in bed for a month” part of things. I really did NOT want to do that, and my mother-in-law had a bad knee from a run in with a delivery truck in her early thirties, so she was not keen on carting large bowls of soup up three flights of stairs several times a day. The doctor also told her that I needed to walk around to promote healing of the incision. So we decided that I would run down to the first floor and eat in a draft-free corner of the room. The babies had been born in early spring before it was too hot, so I felt fine about wearing a light jacket or sweat shirt when I came out of my room. I nixed the idea of wearing a turban, although I was told I would suffer from migraines in middle age for it. My in-laws would lose face if I went back to work too early or if I went outside the home. So we agreed that I would have free run of the interior of the house and that I would take frequent naps when feeding the babies had tired me out.

The final item of the confinement was NOT negotiable. Both the doctor and my mother-in-law insisted that I bathe in boiled water for the entire month. The doctor was worried about the incision; my mother-in-law was worried about her traditions. My mother-in-law went to a Chinese apothecary and bought copious supplies of mugwort stalks. I did not just bathe in boiled water; I bathed in brownish boiled mugwort tea. It smelled awful. But this was the price of not being closed up in my bedroom for 40 days. We compromised on the other part of the bathing restrictions. Women are not supposed to wash their hair for the full month, either. I agreed to only wash my hair once on the Sunday afternoon just before I had to return to the hospital for my post-surgical checkup. I would wear a warm sweatsuit and a coat, and one of my sisters-in-law, who had worked in a beauty salon, would wash my hair in the kitchen sink. Then she would immediately blow my hair totally dry.

And on the seventh day, the girls and I were discharged from the hospital. We took the babies home for their month in the bedroom with me. I am glad that I had the month off work. Even though GES did not officially pay me, the owners came with a red envelope containing a gift of a month’s salary. This was a common practice in Taiwanese companies at the time. I continued to receive my salary from the university, but I had to pay Lynne for taking my classes, so I did not make anything there. All my fellow teachers and friends from church in Chungli came to visit. More of Yuni’s myriad relatives came to see the “American babies.” Everyone who visited brought gifts of formula, diapers, foods for me, and sometimes a red envelope of cash and gold baby rings. The neighbors all came bearing gifts, too. Some days I had so many visitors that I actually got tired and would have rather rested more.

The entire family celebrated the babies. Their dad began coaching them on how they were going to compete against each other in the Miss World beauty pageant, one representing Taiwan and the other representing the USA. Their aunts and uncle came up to hold and play with them, whenever they had a chance. Except in the middle of the night or when they had dirty diapers or were screaming with colic, I had almost no chance to hold my own kids. It was really amazing, and I am not quite sure how to describe it. It seemed to me that scores and scores of people were in my social circle, and all of them were celebrating and actively participating in welcoming, blessing, and nurturing these babies. And it was not because the babies were half American; this was the way that rural Chinese culture celebrates the continuance of life and the next generation. I suspect this attitude stems from the people's centuries of ancestor worship and their focus on family and clan. A large part of their social fabric lies in continuing the family line and in ensuring the quality of the next generation. I think this is why Asians around the world put such an emphasis on educating and nurturing their children. As a new mother of twins, I was at the center of their celebration of life. It was overwhelming but also quite gratifying. I was so glad that my children were the recipients of such love and care.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Mom, We Have Babies!"

The twins by the nursery window

Feeding time in our "double" room

Twin "A"--Eternal Truth

Twin "B"--Eternal Love

Babies in the feeding cart like loaves of bread at a bakery

The result of melted ice cream: lots and lots of milk!

Towards the end of my pregnancy, my stomach was growing visibly from morning to evening. The twins were doing very well. The only problem was that they were so big the twin across the bottom in a breech position had no room to turn around. The doctor did a number of ultrasounds and decided that as soon as they were big enough to survive outside an incubator, he would do a C-section. He thought we could have them three weeks early, but one twin was just a little bit too small, so we waited another week. Since I was not supposed to go into natural labor for fear of a medical emergency, I stopped teaching classes and began to lie around the house. My friend Lynne from my first year in Taiwan was back in the country attending a church training. She agreed to take my university classes for me every Monday during my maternity leave. Her task was to help the students with their semester projects. She did quite a good job of that!

Finally, the day came. It turned out to be an auspicious day as well, and many Chinese, who now use modern technology to give their babies the best horoscopes possible, had scheduled C-sections at the hospital for that day, too. Since we were not in it for the horoscopes, we did not have to wait for the midday lucky time zone. We were the first surgery of the day. Yuni, Ma and I went to the hospital the night before to have all the surgical prep done. We asked for a double room, and the hospital found us an interior room without windows. It was private and a little larger than usual, but because there were no windows, they charged us the cheaper double-bed rate. In addition to my hospital bed, it had two couch-like daybeds for Yuni and Ma to sleep on. We had our own little hospital slumber party.

Bright and early the next morning, the nurse came to take me down to surgery. The anesthesiologist had visited the night before, and all things were ready downstairs. I was given the option of bikini cut or bisecting my gut. I went for the smaller incision. I was conscious during the entire procedure, as I opted just to have the epidural and NOT get total anesthesia for the end after the babies were out. When the doctor got through all the layers of tissue, mystery baby on the bottom kicked a foot out. The doctor pulled, and out popped a girl. She began crying immediately. The nurse sponged her off and walked up past the big sheet to show me (by spreading the legs) that I had just had a girl. Then she put the naked baby into a portable double incubator. The doctor and his assistant now began pushing on my upper abdomen to get the other baby out. We knew that she was a girl, too. The birth certificates place the births at just a minute apart; I say that it was the longest minute in the history of the human race. Both doctors kept pushing and pushing to inch this larger baby down to where they could pull her out. I didn’t feel pain because of the epidural, but it was definitely NOT a comfortable sensation. Finally, one doctor switched from pushing to pulling, and they managed to work the baby out. She was asleep. They swatted her to get her crying. She mewled twice and went back to sleep. When the nurse brought her to see me, she half opened an eye and then went to sleep again. The nurse put her into the double incubator with her sister and wheeled them both out to meet Grandma and Daddy. Ma told me that when they saw the babies, the girls had linked arms in the incubator.

After the doctor stitched me up, I spent some time in the recovery room, and then I went back up to my hospital room. Due to the problems with clean water, all C-section mothers were kept in the hospital for a week until the incisions had grown together enough that no infection was likely. A few hours after the operation, I startled everyone by walking the halls and going downstairs to see the babies in the nursery. The twins were quite the celebrities in the hospital. For one thing, they were bald, but all the full-blood Chinese babies had been born with shocks of black hair. For another thing, they were definitely white compared to the rest of the nursery’s inhabitants. All the visitors to the hospital wanted to see the American twins, so their beds were placed quite close to the windows. Twin A cried a lot, and the nurses took turns walking her and holding her and talking to her. She responded to the attention like a born movie star. Twin B was much more business-like about the process of living. She ate lots and then slept and then ate some more.

The next order of business was for Yuni to call my parents and tell them that mother and babies were safe. We spent quite a bit of time rehearsing the English before he went off to find an international pay phone. We settled on a simple script: “Mom (or Dad), we have babies.” And we practiced that plural “s” until the enunciation was clear. Then we went on with the important statistics: “Two girls, six pounds each, Teresa and babies are good.” It only took him thirty minutes of constant practice before he felt confident about making his first transpacific phone call by himself. It was a momentous occasion all around. And of course, my parents were thrilled to have become grandparents twice over.

I was allowed to eat real food by noon, and by the evening feeding, I tried to breast feed the twins. They wound up getting about half mother’s milk and half formula. Several times a day, the nurses would wheel the carts of tightly swaddled babies up to the maternity ward so that the mothers could feed their own babies. They had special coaches for mothers who wanted to breastfeed, and the nurses even made sure we knew how to safely bathe the babies and change their diapers before they would clear us for discharge. Both kids were slightly jaundiced, which is apparently very common in Asia. While my incision was healing, the babies basked under sun lamps in the nursery for several hours a day until their bilirubin counts went down.

By the second day, my visitors started pouring in. Friends from church and Liu family relatives all came bearing gifts of food for me and diapers or formula for the kids. A few of my American friends from church came with ice cream, and my mother-in-law and I began the first of many negotiations about cross-cultural motherhood and child-rearing. Chinese mothers spend the month after childbirth resting in bed with the baby. They only eat chicken and wine soup. They are not allowed to drink water or eat vegetables for fear the baby will develop colic or diarrhea. The mothers are not allowed to wash their hair for a month, they can only bathe in water boiled with mugwort, and they must wear long-johns and a turban to be sure they do not catch a chill. They are not allowed to eat or touch anything cold because it is believed that cold water or cold foods during the month after child-birth will give the mother arthritis in middle-age. But my friends had brought me mint chocolate chip ice cream, my favorite, and I really wanted it. Finally, we asked the nurse. Due to the surgery, the doctor had already nixed the chicken and wine soup routine. I was to drink plenty of water and NO alcohol for three weeks. The nurse said I could have ice cream, but she suggested I let it melt and warm up to room temperature to appease my mother-in-law’s sensibilities. So I had a room temperature mint chocolate chip milk shake, and within fifteen minutes I had so much milk that the nurse had to bring both babies for an extra feeding. And that is how the American magic of melted, room-temperature ice cream was added to the Liu family’s menu of best foods for nursing mothers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Last Semester's Scholarship Essay

Last semester I entered a Chinese essay-writing contest at school in the hopes of winning a scholarship from the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Organization in Los Angeles. I was disqualified for being too close to a native speaker, but I did get recognized as the best non-native Chinese speaker in the department. I got a nice little honorable mention certificate, too. After last week's post, I thought you might like to see what I wrote. I did translate the Chinese for my English readers. So I am posting both. Please excuse the English if it's awkward, there are some concepts that do not translate exactly. The topic was given to us by TECO.


My Experiences in Taiwan

1982年8月23日當我在台灣第一次下了飛機, 我做夢也想不到台灣對我的人生會有多大的影響, 也不知道我的生活因着台灣會有多少改變。

When I first stepped off the plane in Taiwan on August 23, 1986, I never dreamed how much influence Taiwan would have on my life. I never knew how much Taiwan would change me.

那年我才二十一歲, 大學剛剛畢了業, 到台灣去學中文, 準備一兩年後, 回美國擔任翻譯工作. 真沒想到學習中文是無窮盡的, 要學得徹底, 一兩年的功夫根本不夠. 也沒想到我在台灣會找到歸宿成家, 而等到八年後回美時, 那個單槍匹馬闖台灣的美國小姐, 已經是帶兒攜眷的中國媳婦了.

That year I was twenty-one years old. I had just graduated from university, and I came to Taiwan to study Chinese. I thought that after one or two years, I would return to America to begin working as a translator. It never occurred to me that the study of Chinese is boundless, and if I wanted to learn it well, one or two years would not be enough. I never imagined that I would find a home and a family in Taiwan or that after eight long years, the single woman who arrived alone in Taiwan would return to the US as a Chinese daughter-in-law with a husband and children.

在1982年, 台灣大不如今天那麼繁榮. 那時候, 台灣的經濟奇蹟才剛開始, 美國商店如麥當勞, 7-11等公司, 尚未在台營業. 台灣居民所過的生活跟美國人的比, 實在辛苦得多. 我剛到台灣要學會用洗衣板洗衣服. 要學會去菜市場買菜. 要學會以飯為主食, 減少每天吃的肉量. 還要學會睡硬板床鋪蓆子. 我住的地方是中國人的家庭, 他們不大會說英文, 而我只會用華語說: “謝謝, 再見,” 所以前幾個月感覺非常不方便.

In 1982, Taiwan was not as developed as it is now. In those days, Taiwan’s economic miracle was just beginning. American companies like McDonald’s and 7-11 had not yet started doing business in Taiwan. The lifestyle of the Taiwanese people when compared with that of Americans was much more difficult. When I first arrived in Taiwan, I had to learn to wash my clothes on a washboard. I had to learn to buy food at a market. I had to learn to eat rice as the staple of my diet and decrease my meat intake. And I had to learn to sleep on a board bed with a mat on top. I lived with a Chinese family who did not speak English, and the only Chinese words that I could say were: “Thank you, good-bye.” So the first few months were very difficult.

九月一日, 我在師大國語中心開始上課. 去台灣時, 可以說我太傲慢, 不知道天高地厚, 以為我既然精通英語, 西班牙語, 德語, 又對日語, 法語, 以及拉丁文有一些認識, 所以要學深淵的中國語言文字應該沒什麼問題. 可是我這個想法大錯特錯了. 其實, 國語的四個聲調對西方人很難. 一不小心, 把媽媽說成馬了, 更糟糕的是到教會把主耶穌說成豬. 我才發現, 要把中文學好, 就需要又耐心又認真地讀下去. 我一天天用功讀書, 日積月累, 三年後, 才算是聽說讀寫全通了.

On September first I began classes at the Mandarin Training Institute at Taiwan Normal University. When I first went to Taiwan, I was a little bit proud. I did not know about the big world, and I thought that since I was fluent in English, Spanish and German and because I also knew a little Japanese, French, and Latin, I would have no problem learning the deep and ancient Chinese language. But I was really wrong about that! The truth of the matter was that the four tones in Chinese were very hard for Westerners to learn. If I wasn’t careful, I called my mother a horse, and even worse, when I went to church, I called the Lord a pig. I began to discover that if I wanted to learn Chinese well, I needed to keep on studying with patience and diligence. I worked hard at my studies every day, month after month, and after three years, I was able to comprehend, speak, read and write in Mandarin.

除了上中文課以外, 我還常常到教會的出版社, 也就是台灣福音書房, 幫忙校對聖經譯稿. 書房舉辦國際大會時, 我也開始學習做現場中英翻譯. 在書房的一次特殊工作當中, 我認識了一位台灣男孩, 名字叫劉運意. 可以說兩個人是一見鐘情. 經過一年的交往, 也獲得雙方父母的同意與祝福, 我們就在1986年12月25日在台北市地方法院結為夫妻. 我就成了台灣傳統客家人家裡的長媳婦. 那真是我人生的大改變!

In addition to attending Chinese classes, I also went to the church’s publishing company, Taiwan Gospel Bookroom, to help proofread translations of the Bible. When the Bookroom held international conferences, I began to learn how to do simultaneous interpretation of Chinese to English. While working on a special project for the Bookroom, I met a man from Taiwan named Liu Yuni. You could say that it was love at first sight. After dating for a year and obtaining the approval of both sets of parents, we got married on December 25, 1986 at the Municipal Court in Taipei. And I became the eldest daughter-in-law in a traditional Hakka family from Taiwan. That was truly a huge change in my life!

結婚後, 我從台北搬到中壢, 住進婆婆家裡. 除了公公婆婆與丈夫, 家裡還有三個未出嫁的小姑, 以及尚讀初中的小叔. 剛開始我有些不習慣, 可是全家大大小小對我很好. 我和小姑教婆婆說國語, 她們也教我聽懂客家話. 婆媳小姑常常一起做飯一起做家務, 所以覺得很輕鬆愉快. 過了一年多, 我生了一對雙胞胎女兒, 第二年又生了老三. 那時候帶三個寶寶, 要不是三代同堂, 人人合作, 真不知道會把孩子弄成什麼樣子.

After my marriage, I moved out of Taipei to Chungli and lived with my mother-in-law. In addition to my in-laws and my husband, there were three unmarried sisters-in-law and a younger brother-in-law who was still in junior high. In the beginning, it was hard for me to get used to living like that, but everyone in the family was very nice to me. My sisters-in-law and I taught my mother-in-law to speak Mandarin. My sisters-in-law also taught me how to understand Hakka. All of us women would cook together and do the household chores. It made the housework easy and fun. After a year or so, I gave birth to twin daughters, and the next year I had a third child. I do not know how I would have managed with three babies, if we had not been living in a multi-generational household in which everyone helped everyone else.

在台灣令我最難忘的地方已經不存在了, 那就是我丈夫的出生地, 在新竹縣鵝美鄉的老家. 現在政府擴寬了馬路, 原來的三合院被拆了, 大部分的人搬到都市去了. 可是我剛結婚後的那幾年, 三個親伯父幾個堂伯父和他們的兒孫, 都還住在老家那裡. 每逢過年過節以及家族的喜事喪事, 全家人都要回老家. 那個氣氛真熱鬧. 三合院中央的曬穀場上會擺十幾張桌子. 堂兄弟姐妹帶着孩子回來, 大概有一兩百人. 大家說着笑着一起吃飯. 從大門望出去往山谷下看, 都是綠油油的稻田. 過了稻田, 在對面的山坡上有茶園. 房子後面的山上有水果樹和番薯田. 伯母養的雞到處跑. 飯吃完了, 男人就到祖堂旁邊, 阿友伯的客廳閒聊打牌. 有的孩子牽着小狗到後面的山上玩, 另一群孩子到溪邊去捉淡水蝦. 女人都幫忙收食物洗碗盤. 老伯母坐在那裡指揮年輕人. 媳婦把剩菜裝起來, 分給每家帶回去. 年輕少女洗碗, 擦桌子, 掃地. 八九歲的小女孩幫忙帶嬰兒. 大家邊做邊談, 說誰家孩子考上學校, 誰家媳婦剛生小孩. 一轉眼, 事情做完了. 年輕的也出去散步了, 年級大一點的就坐下來跟伯母聊天. 我如果跟她們說話, 她們都會跟我說劉運意小時候有趣的故事. 說到最後, 大家笑得合不攏口.

The most memorable place for me in Taiwan no longer exists. It is the place where my husband was born, the old family farm in Omei Hsiang, Hsinchu County. The government widened the road, and the old three-sided farm compound was torn down. Most of its inhabitants moved into the city. But just after my marriage, all three of my husband’s uncles and several of their cousins lived in the old homestead with their children and grandchildren. On holidays and special family occasions, the entire clan would return to the old homestead. It was really a bustling scene. More than ten tables would be set up on the threshing floor in the middle of the courtyard. All the cousins would bring their children, and there were more than a hundred people. Everyone ate together, talking and laughing. If you looked out the gate into the valley, you could see the bright green rice paddies. Beyond the paddies, on the hillside across the way, there were tea farms. On the hill behind the house, there were fruit trees and sweet potato fields. The aunts’ chickens ran around everywhere. When the meal was over, the men went into Uncle You’s rooms beside the ancestral hall to play mah-jongg. Some of the children took the dogs up on the hillside to play. Other children went to the creek to catch crawdads. The women began cleaning up the dishes and food. The old aunties sat there giving orders; the daughters-in-law divided the leftovers up for people to take home. The teen-age girls washed the bowls and wiped down the tables. Some of them swept the floor. The eight or nine year old girls helped take care of the babies. Everyone talked as they worked about whose child had passed the college entrance exam or whose daughter-in-law was going to have a baby. In a short time, all the work was done. The young women went out for a walk, and some of the older ones sat down with the aunties to chat. If I spoke to the aunties, they would tell me funny stories of when Yuni was a little boy. At the end of the stories, we would all be laughing till our sides ached.

中國人這樣天倫之樂, 在美國家庭找不到. 目前在台灣和中國, 隨着時代的演變, 這種情形也漸漸沒有了. 我這麼一個美國人能成為傳統中國家庭的一份子, 又能親身經歷中國人古老的氣氛, 實在是我人生中的大幸.

This is the Chinese joy of large families, and you won’t find it here in America. Even today as Taiwan and China modernize and change, it is gradually dying out. For an American like me to become a part of a traditional Chinese family and to be able to experience the atmosphere of ancient Chinese traditions have been some of the greatest blessings of my life.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pa Liu Shares his Dreams for the Family

The family party celebrating my mom and uncle's visit with gifts of horse-sized prenatal vitamins.

Pa and Ma Liu

At the upper house of the Liu Family Farm with Liu Yuni's Great-aunt (last living relative of his grandfather's generation)

At the upper house of the Liu Family farm with Yuni's great-great aunt (last living relative of his great-grandparents' generation).

Taking my mom to visit the Gloria English School on my scooter.

After the family knew I was pregnant, Pa Liu began spending much time telling me about the Liu family history. He talked about his grandparents. Great-grandpa Liu had been an herbal veterinarian, and his wife had been a literate midwife and pediatrician. They had been widely respected in the community for their book-learning and skill at healing. Then the Japanese had taken over Taiwan towards the end of the Qing Dynasty as part of the "Unequal Treaties" that gave foreign powers treaty ports and concessions in China. Many Hakka, with their strong sense of tradition and connections to Chinese heritage and culture, opposed Taiwan’s annexation to Japan. They waged guerilla warfare from bases in the hills against the Japanese occupying forces.
The Liu family farm was nestled up in the hills in the north-central part of the island. Great-grandpa and great-grandma Liu sheltered guerillas and used their medical skills in support of the anti-Japanese cause. The result was that the family had been blacklisted. None of their children and grandchildren was allowed an education. Pa was the youngest boy of his generation, and I think he was even the youngest child among all his cousins. He was his grandmother’s special charge until she died when he was around ten. Great-grandmother saw to it that towards the end of the Japanese occupation, when things were a little looser and Grandpa Liu had made friends with the Japanese by paying regular and frequent bribes, Pa Liu was allowed to go to school. He went to three years of Japanese school, and then the war was over and the Chinese retook Taiwan. So Pa Liu went to fourth through sixth grade in Chinese, and had to learn to read all over again.
As she got older Great-grandmother Liu kept telling Pa that the Liu family had been a great family. They were not just peasants. They had been literate, gentlemen farmers. Since he was the only one of his generation to go to school, he needed to find a way to restore the family honor. He made a death-bed promise to his grandmother that he would find a way for his children and grandchildren to get an education.
All his children went to school through junior high, which was as far as they could go without an exam in those days. Four of his children went to high school, three of them graduating from it. And Yuni went to college, even though the family had to sacrifice a lot to keep him there. Now that Pa Liu had a college-educated daughter-in-law, he spent much time discussing the future of his unborn grandchildren. His grandchildren needed to be literate. They needed to speak Hakka, Mandarin, and English. They needed to go to college. I agreed with him on all those counts.
Then we had the problem of the names. The "came-to-Taiwan" ancestor had brought a poem or a list of generational names through Yuni’s generation. The second character of all the men in Yuni’s generation is Yun. (The first character is the family name: Liu). All the girls have the second character Hsiu. But the list stopped with Yun. Others in the family had tried to find out, but in the late 80s not many Taiwanese were able to get to the mainland, especially if they were not rich businessmen. I had friends in America and Hong Kong who made frequent trips into mainland China. So Pa and I went back to the old family farm to see if we could figure out a way to find the next generational character in the list. We found out that the family came from Mei County in Guangdong Province, from a place called Peng City. I found a friend who was going to visit that area of Guangdong, and they offered to help me look. But it was of no avail. Peng City had been destroyed long ago, and although there were several Liu families in the area, no one had the same generational character list. So we were stuck.
In the end, we decided to choose our own generational character for Yuni and Yuntian’s children. We chose the character "Yung" (pronounced yong), which means "eternal". Yuntian agreed that his kids would use that character when the time came. This search for the generational character took place over several months. By the time we knew that we would not be able to find it, we pretty much just needed to sit back and wait for the birth of the twins. We knew that one would be a girl, and we thought we would call her Yungai (Eternal Love). If the other twin was a girl, we would call her Yungjun (Eternal Truth), and if it was a boy we would call him Yunghsin (Eternal Faith). I chose some English names, and we went back to watching my stomach grow as we waited for the birth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Dark Underbelly of Modern Confucian-style Families

Add Image
The Liu Household during my first 16 months of marriage

As I made more friends in my status of Chinese daughter-in-law, I began to learn the real situation of my female friends’ home lives. In the Chinese culture, a person is not truly considered grown up until after he or she is married. For a woman this means that prior to marriage, no married woman will discuss sex, marital problems, or any other difficulties at home with you. Once you are married, you are ushered into what can probably best be called the “suffering sisterhood.” I have to say that many marriages are happy. When I lived with the families in Taipei, they did not seem to be any more or less unhappy than solid American marriages. But when I moved out of Taipei, into a more rural setting, where most women were living with their in-laws like I was, I quickly learned that I had married into a remarkable family. Many of the tales that I heard were shocking. They were recounted to me by co-workers, relatives, and friends. As I repeat them, I am not going to mention the sources of the stories because they were told in the confidence of the women’s circles in the kitchens at family dinners or in the teachers’ lounges or over lunch or tea with friends. These stories were never meant for general consumption and certainly were not to be told in front of men.

A common theme was male infidelity. China did not make concubinage illegal until after 1949, so men in the 1980s frequently felt entitled to the enjoyment of more than one woman. Although they were limited to one legal wife, men with enough money often set up a concubine in a nearby house and supported two households. A man who could afford this kind of arrangement was thought to have “great face.” Men expected that according to the rules of concubinage under the imperial laws, their main wives should allow any children born to the concubines to be registered as legitimate on the man’s household register as adopted children of the main wife. Many of my friends and relatives in this kind of situation got into huge fights with their husbands and in-laws for insisting on adhering to modern law and refusing to register the concubine’s kids. Of course, the real victims of these struggles were the concubine’s children because they would have to take their mothers’ surnames and be registered without a father. They would be looked down on at school and would suffer teasing and bullying for being illegitimate. A few of my friends eventually gave in and let their husbands register children born outside the home, mainly because they felt sorry for the children. This kind of problem was particularly common among women who had failed to produce one or more sons to carry on the family lineage. When it was a matter of carrying on the family name, the parents-in-law would usually support their son in having an outside woman because according to Confucian logic, the greatest sin is dying without a son to carry on your line.

Another common problem was an over-demanding mother-in-law or a mother-in-law who was so tied to her son that she could not bear to see him married to another woman. I had one friend whose mother-in-law drove her out of the house with a broom every month or so because she got jealous of the time her son was spending with his wife and child. Other women had problems with mothers-in-law who would insist on taking most of the month’s grocery money to the mah-jongg tables and losing the household’s food allowance. The daughter-in-law was expected to obey the mother-in-law and frequently could not come out and directly say that there was no meat for dinner because Mama had lost the money gambling. Mama would often blame the poor meals on the daughter-in-law, and it wasn’t until the gambling addiction went beyond grocery money and Mama was asking all her sons and her husband for money every couple of days that the truth would come out. Until the men discovered the truth for themselves, the daughter-in-law was in a very tight spot because she seemed to be wasting family resources, but if she openly blamed her mother-in-law, her husband and father-in-law would be obligated to take Mama’s side against her.

Another problem was wife beating. Most business deals were made over banquets in which large quantities of alcohol were consumed. The men would come home drunk, and if the woman looked at her husband the wrong way, she could be brutally beaten. There were laws on the books against wife beating, but most people did not use the court system. There was a distrust of the government and a lack of faith in the legal system. Plus the woman needed her own money to hire a lawyer. What usually happened after a particularly brutal beating was that the wife would have her own parents and brothers pick her up at the hospital emergency room. She would go home to recuperate, and her father and brothers would renegotiate the terms for her continued presence in her married family. I do not know what the divorce laws are like now, but in those days, a woman who got divorced walked away with her jewelry and clothing. The children stayed with their father’s family to carry on the family line. Many of my friends would have left their husbands in a heartbeat, regardless of the money, but they did not want to be cut off from their children, and they were afraid that the children might be harmed by vindictive grandmothers or step-mothers in the absence of their birth mother.

The harmony of a multi-generational household depended a lot on the father-in-law. If the father-in-law was reasonable and kept the mother-in-law from abusing her position, life was usually pretty good for the daughters-in-law. If the father-in-law was dead or hen-pecked, the mothers-in-law could terrorize anyone they chose. Some mothers-in-law recognized the need for family harmony and did their best to create harmony among all the women in the home. Many were bitter about what they had suffered as young women and decided that their daughters-in-law presented the opportunity for them to get their revenge. When a mother-in-law was a bully, the siblings of the husband would frequently join their mother in persecuting the poor wife. Sometimes the siblings would even steal anything of value that was not hidden and locked away.

In the 1980s there was not much the women could do. They would get together in the sisterhood at work or among their natal relatives and air their grievances. Women would share stories of tricks for keeping husbands faithful or gaining the respect of parents-in-law. One of my favorite stories was about the woman who shadowed her husband to his trysting place with his mistress, waited until both had removed their pants, and then rushed in and began spanking them with a bamboo carrying pole. Word got around that the wife was not someone to be trifled with, and her husband was unable to ever find another mistress.

I think a large part of the problem was the rapid change in societal customs and values with modernization and the influence of Western movies and television. For thousands of years, China was an agrarian society with nearly self-sufficient household units. Confucianism set up the parameters for household members to know their place in the household and what they should do to contribute to the survival of the family. Individual achievement was not as important as the family. With the advent of industrialization and the introduction of Western values, the individual became important, but no one knew how to be an individual. The old rules don’t work, and the translation of Western values has come through skewed. Being an individual has come to mean being selfish. When everyone in the household just thinks of himself or herself, the whole Confucian system breaks down. I was fortunate that my in-laws had such a high level of traditional integrity and sensibility. I don’t know what I would have done with some of the mothers-in-law of women that I knew. They were truly living in a nightmare.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Diagnosis: "You Have Joy"

In April the unit commanders took their English test, and my regular Wednesday night English lessons ended. The base was still on high alert, and all leaves were cancelled. One afternoon in May, Liu Yuni came home while his unit was watching a movie. I was back from Taipei and getting ready to go teach at the Gloria English School. We all sat and talked in the living room, and then I hopped on my red scooter and headed off for class. When I got back, Liu Yuni was still home. I was surprised because when he had movie leave, he was supposed to return before the unit headed back to the base from the theater. He said that he was tired of not being able to see his family, and he was planning to go AWOL. He wanted me to get on a midnight bus with him and head to the South of the island. My parents-in-law and I told him that it would be foolish for us to flee together because I was such a noticeable target. We suggested that he return to the base. Finally, we all went to bed. I suspect my father-in-law called the base and spoke to a commander, but I will never know for sure. In any event, Pa Liu was not terribly surprised when early the next morning, Yuni’s Company Counselor (something like a chaplain/psychologist) and his Unit Commander showed up on our doorstep before breakfast. We all finally convinced Yuni that it would be better for him to return with them to base with no consequences besides extra KP duty, than to let them go back alone and have to send the MPs after him. They also told him that the commanders had already received word from the high brass that the state of emergency would soon be ending and that all military personnel would be given make-up leave for the preceding months. The officers said they could not guarantee that Yuni would get an entire week of leave at one time, but he would have several three-day weekends over the next few months. With that assurance, the three of them drove back to base.

The commanders had not been lying; in June the state of emergency was cancelled, and all personnel began to have leave again. For the next few months, Liu Yuni got three days at stretch every other week. He would come home and sleep for the first 24 to 36 hours, but then he would still have two days when he was well-rested and could interact with the family. He was in a Guard Company, and they had to stand watch for two hours at a time 24 hours a day. He is not a person who does well on interrupted sleep. It took him more than ten years after his tour of duty was over to recover from that kind of a schedule.

I began my all-day teaching schedule in July when school let out. (Taiwanese schools usually started their summer vacation on July 1.) Life was good. I had a great job. I enjoyed being with the family. I was seeing my husband several times a month. I had lots of new friends among the teachers. I enjoyed my students. And then, I started getting this horrible lower back ache and my arms and chest began to ache. I didn’t throw up, but I was definitely queasy, and I kept burping at the most inopportune times. I told one of my TAs, who was older and married. She said it sounded like I was pregnant. I grabbed a calendar and counted off days, and sure enough, that was a strong possibility.

My friend suggested that I get my mother-in-law or sisters-in-law to take me to the doctor. I really did not want to do that. After the brouhaha with the aunties and the family’s reaction to my vomiting after eating food cooked in pork lard (they had the nearest sister-in-law take me to the clinic immediately for a pregnancy test), I was afraid that if this was a false alarm I was in for more lectures about how terrible it was for a woman to be infertile. Finally, my friend offered to come spend the night with me and go with me to the clinic early in the morning before our first class. We made the appointment and got our number the evening before on our way back to my house. Then very early the next morning, we went to the clinic and I peed in a cup. Several minutes later, the doctor came back into the examining room and told me: “You have joy.” That is the literal translation of the Chinese euphemism for “You are pregnant.” He figured that I was about 6 weeks pregnant.

My friend and I went on to class, and I continued with my life as usual. I decided to wait for Joshua’s next leave and tell the family all together. Needless to say, they were quite excited. These would be the first “inner” grandchildren for my parents-in-law. (“Inner grandchildren” have the same last name and carry on the family line.) Then after getting everyone so excited, I started bleeding the very next week. I took a day off school and went back to the doctor’s. He did an ultra-sound to see what was wrong, and he discovered not one, but two pulsating blobs with heart-beats. I was not only pregnant I was making up for lost time and was going to have twins. The local doctor suggested that I transfer my file to a major hospital because twins were considered a “high-risk” pregnancy. So the following week, my in-laws took me to the Chang Geng Memorial Hospital for my first official pre-natal exam. The doctors there pronounced me healthy, and the excitement in the home was palpable. My mother and uncle from the States made arrangements to come visit me and bring American prenatal vitamins (the kind that are big enough for horses).

And the following week “morning” sickness set in for real. But it was not just morning sickness, it was morning, noon, evening, and night sickness, and it lasted for the rest of the pregnancy. I continued teaching, but I had to develop a strategy. We had breaks on the hour, but the line for the bathrooms was quite long. So I would will myself not to vomit until 5 minutes before break time. Then I would give my students a quiz, rush out of the classroom into the nearest bathroom, empty my stomach before the bell rang, and run into the teachers’ lounge for a cup of tea to settle my nerves and stomach. The owners were quite accommodating, and they even instructed the managers to hold off on ringing the bell for break time until I was safely out of the bathroom. Later ultrasounds and exams showed that the problem was the placenta of Twin B pressing upwards on my stomach. There was nothing I could do but eat frequent, small meals; drink lots of fluids; and make sure I always had a clear path to the restroom. Aside from this one minor matter, the pregnancy went pretty smoothly. I worked up until the week before the babies were born, and for the most part, I felt wonderful. The Chinese term for “morning sickness” translates literally as “harmed by joy.” And I guess that’s a good term for it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Launch

Calligraphy by the Dalai Lama for the cover of Chinese dissident poet Jiang Pinchao's latest anthology: Poems from Exile

My good friend, Chinese dissident poet Jiang Pinchao, has compiled yet another anthology of his and other dissident poets' works. This volume is entitled "Poems from Exile." It includes the work of 42 Chinese and Tibetan poets, most of whom write from exile around the world. My thesis committee chairman, Dr. Teri Shaffer Yamada (Professor of Asian literature, CSULB Asian and Asian American Studies), wrote the intro for this volume. A friend of mine, Fanyi Yang (MA in Asian Studies, 2009 CSULB), and I translated the intro into Chinese with the help of another professor in our department: Dr. Feng-ying Ming. The book launch will be held at CSULB later this month with several notable Chinese dissidents and poets in attendance. Jiang Pinchao will be there, as will 吴宏达先生、黄翔先生、傅希秋、周锋锁 (Hongda Wu, Poet Huang Xiang, Bob Fu of China Aid Association, and Fengsuo Zhou). The launch will be in Chinese and English with poetry readings of some of the poets' work in Chinese with English translation. If any of you are in southern California, you are more than welcome to attend. Fanyi and I will be emceeing and interpreting for the event. There will be light refreshments and admission is free, but parking on campus costs $4.
Event: "Poems from Exile" Book Launch
Date: October 28, 2009
Time: 5-6:30 pm
Place: California State University, Long Beach, Karl Anatol Center (AS 110)
A foretaste:
"All of the poets represented in this anthology provide an insight into the resiliency of the human spirit and the courage required to maintain artistic integrity in the face of censorship and violent repression. They represent the power of creative expression to overcome the most crushing obstacles and the determination to make our world a better place. We are blessed by their presence and poetry. " ---Teri Shaffer Yamada, "Introduction to Poems from Exile"
"本詩集的所有詩人,都讓我們看出人心靈的適應力,以及他們面臨審查和暴力壓制時為保有其藝術創作而產生的勇氣。他們證明了創造性的表達有能力克服最壓迫人的障礙,也讓我們看見他們要改善世界的堅定決心。我們因他們的存在與詩歌受到心靈上的恩惠。" --Teresa Zimmerman-Liu 與 楊凡儀 譯
PS I will resume posting my memoirs on Sunday, October 4, 2009. The title of the next post is "You Have Joy."