Sunday, June 14, 2009

Taking me Home to Meet the 'Rents

Teresa and Joshua 1986

Joshua's mom (lower right)

Joshua and his mom and 5th sister (lower left)

My siblings-in-law with their parents: Hsiu-ju (#4), Hsiu-jun (#5), Hsiu-mei (#3), Yuni (#2), Yun-tian (#7), Hsiu-yue (#1) and Hsiu-ling (#6)
Joshua and I had really gotten to know each other pretty well. I had written home to my parents about him, and he had told his parents about me. My parents didn’t voice any objections and just told me to use my best judgment. Joshua’s parents wanted me to come to their home for lunch on the second day of Chinese New Year, so I could meet the whole family.

Since I was going to be meeting his parents, Liu Yuni decided that we should have another meeting with General Manager and update him on the progress of our relationship. We scheduled an appointment just before quitting time on Chinese New Year’s Eve when most people would already be gone for the holiday. General Manager was quite surprised that I hadn’t dumped Liu Yuni. He was even more surprised that we had been going out every other Sunday afternoon for “meals” and he had not heard about it. Since we had been following his instructions to the letter, there was not much more he could say. He told me I should tell the house parents where I was living that we were dating and that I should let them know where I was going when I went to lunch with Joshua’s parents. We left him intoning his Chinese folk saying: “When a girl grows up, you can’t keep her (from marriage), the more you try to keep her, the more she becomes your enemy.”

Liu Yuni rushed home after our meeting with General Manager because the eve of Chinese New Year is traditionally a time for family reunion. Most of the girls that I lived with had gone home for the holiday. I told the house mother what I would be doing. She was in a rush getting the kids ready to go to grandma’s house, so she didn’t really say anything. In the end, I and the student from Burma were alone that night. All the shops and restaurants were shuttered tightly, so we made instant noodles for dinner. The next day was another lazy day with no one around and no stores open. We ate a lot of instant noodles. I was getting very nervous about the morrow.

The following morning Liu Yuni arrived bright and early to pick me up. He was driving his father’s truck because we had to go on the freeway to get to his parents’ house, which was south of the airport. Fortunately, some of the fruit vendors at the market were selling gift boxes, so I had been able to get a box of pears to take as a gift for my first visit. I was so nervous my stomach hurt.

The Lius lived in a storefront house off an alley in Chung-li. It had a metal rolling door that closed off the entire wall of the living room. They kept the door open to let the fresh (cold) air in. There was a couch, arm chairs, a coffee table, and a large TV in one side of living room area. The other side had a big round table with high stools around it. I was told to sit in one of the arm chairs and talk to Liu Yuni’s father. The kitchen was at the back of the first floor behind a wooden wall. I could hear the sound of food sizzling in the wok and many, many female voices. Liu Yuni and his younger brother disappeared upstairs, leaving me alone with his father. Every so often I would see a girl’s head pop around from behind the kitchen wall and look at me. When I tried to catch their eyes, they would immediately disappear and laughter would peal from the kitchen.
Liu Yuni’s father began asking me about my life, my education, my family background, my habits, my political views, my religion, my plans, my abilities, etc., etc. I began to feel that I should have sent a resume in a week before this meeting. Mr. Liu told me that lunch would be a little late because we were waiting for his eldest daughter and her husband. He wanted everyone in the family to meet his eldest son’s new girlfriend. Finally, the phone rang; it was Eldest Sister calling to say they would not be able to make it because one of her children was sick. A young girl scurried out from the kitchen with a glass of tea for me and damp towel so that I could wipe my hands. She hardly dared look at me before taking the used towel and scurrying back.

The girls in the kitchen began bringing dish after dish to the table. Other girls set out chopsticks and bowls full of rice. One went to the foot of the stairs and called the boys. Finally, we all sat around the table and ate. Liu Yuni’s mother was very nice; she smiled and laughed a lot, but I didn’t speak her dialect of Hakka and she didn’t speak Mandarin. The girls translated for us. The meal was delicious. I tried to help clear and wash dishes, but Mr. Liu called me over again to speak with him.

He wanted to explain to me about the family’s situation. He felt that I should know that he had failed in business and was repaying creditors under a court bankruptcy order. I told him that I didn’t have a problem with that. He told me that he had only graduated from the sixth grade with three years of Japanese education and three years of Chinese education. His wife had only gone to two years of Japanese school before World War II made it too dangerous for her to be out on the streets with all the soldiers about. He told me that Liu Yuni was the first in the family for three generations to have a college degree, but that Liu Yuni’s great-grandparents were highly educated Chinese doctors. Great-grandmother Liu was a pediatrician/midwife and great-grandfather Liu was a veterinarian. I told him that my brother was studying to be a vet, and one of my uncle’s was a bovine vet. Mr. Liu proceeded to tell me that he was the youngest of his generation and had taken care of the midwife grandmother in her old age. She had charged him with ensuring that his children and grandchildren got an education. He hoped that if I did marry his son, I would help him with this endeavor. Mr. Liu also told me that since I had learned Mandarin as a native English speaker, he did not want me to learn Hakka, too. He was going to have his children teach Mrs. Liu Mandarin so that she could communicate with me. He also felt it would be better for her to speak Mandarin, in case she needed to communicate with doctors or other highly educated professionals. He said that his only reservation was the fact that I was Christian and did not burn incense to the ancestors. He said that we did not have time to get into the details then, but he wanted further conversation with me about Christian funerals and how Christians honored their families and their dead family members.

Finally, it was time to go. Liu Yuni drove me back up to Taipei with a detour to Shimen Reservoir. It was cold and rainy out, so we sat in the truck looking at the rain on the water of the reservoir while I told him everything that his father had said. He breathed a sigh of relief because he felt that his father had approved of me, and I had done well in my interview. I told him that I felt as if I had gone through the world’s strangest employment interview. He didn’t see it that way; he said that since no one knew my family, his parents had to satisfy themselves about my character and my background.


Barrie said...

I would've been a nervous wreck.

Teresa said...

Hi Barrie,

All I can say is that my stomach was hurting. But it was a nice meal, and his parents are both really nice.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing!
Aloha, Cloudia

murat11 said...

A lovely romance. The recounting of the conversation with Mr. Liu and his imperative honesty about his own life was quite beautiful. I'm very curious about the follow up conversation about Christian funerals and the honoring of ancestors. Very interesting to see what was considered important to him.

Teresa said...

Hi Cloudia, thanks for dropping by. Aloha to you, too.

Murat, my father-in-law and I had many conversations before and after the marriage about how Joshua and I, as Christians, would fit into the family's ceremonies for honoring dead ancestors. I will try to relate them as they happened, or maybe if appropriate, I may make that the topic of an entire post. We eventually hammered out some compromises that the entire clan feels comfortable with. Our compromises opened the door for my husband's siblings and cousins to have the option of converting to Christianity with their parents' approval. A small number of them have made the switch.

Lyndi Lamont said...

That must have been nerve-wracking. So interesting.


Teresa said...

It was NOT at all what I was expecting when I met the family. But I think that I should have realized it might be like that after all my classes on Chinese marriage. They see it as a business proposition for the economic good of both families, but especially of the groom's, so it only makes sense that it should have been handled like an employment interview.