Monday, August 31, 2009

PART FIVE: White Chinese Daughter-in-Law

With our washer and dryer, notice that they're made of plastic to minimize rusting. The washer has a spinner on one side that is separate from the washing drum.

On the East Coast of Taiwan with ship in background

Life with the Lius was very different from anything I had ever experienced. Their family structure was much more traditional than the families I had lived with in Taipei. They were a real country family, who had just moved to the city less than ten years before our marriage. All the children and Pa Liu knew Mandarin, but Ma Liu only spoke Hakka, and most of the time the family spoke Hakka at home. I was back in an environment where I understood nothing, and I did not have a Teacher Chin to help me out.

Pa Liu had decided that since I had already learned Mandarin from English, which was a harder task, Ma Liu would learn Mandarin from Hakka. Hsiu-chiu, Yuntian, and I set to work teaching her. Ma Liu is extremely bright, and despite the fact that she was over 50, she quickly picked up the language. She had been with her own mother in the hospital when her mother had had surgery. Neither of them spoke Mandarin, so they could not communicate with the doctors and nurses. It had been a terrible, frightening time for Ma, and she was determined to learn the national language.

I continued to work at the publishing company and an evening English school in Taipei for the first few months of my marriage. I would take the bus to the train station in the mornings, but at night, I was often coming home around eleven, so Pa Liu or Yuntian would be waiting at the train station to pick me up.

Usually there is a certain amount of hazing that goes on when a new woman joins a traditional family. The younger sisters did that a little. I would come home late at night to a sink full of dishes or have to spend my weekends doing all the cleaning. But since I was contributing more money to the family coffers than they were, Ma and Pa Liu quickly put a stop to that. The girls resented it a little, but I determined to pull my weight with the household chores on the days that I didn’t go to Taipei. When they saw that I was not lazy or snooty, they warmed up to me, and we all got along quite well. My sisters-in-law took turns translating family conversations for me, so I would understand the Hakka.

Life was pretty good in the nuclear family, but when we had events with the whole clan, things were a little bit more complicated. We moved into the new house just before the Chinese New Year in 1987. So of course, we had to have a big feast. This time, Ma Liu and her daughters and I made all the food for just a small intimate gathering of their closest relatives, about forty guests. Then for the next few months, other family members who had not attended the feast would drop in for dinner bearing housewarming gifts. And they all wanted to know when my baby was due.

This made things a little awkward because there was a missile crisis with mainland China, and Liu Yuni didn’t get any leave for five months after the wedding. The old aunties kept coming and prodding my stomach to feel the baby inside, which wasn’t there… Finally, one day I lost it and told my sister-in-law to tell them in Hakka that we hadn’t had a proper wedding night, we had “lightbulbs” along on the honeymoon, and Liu Yuni hadn’t been home since. If there was a baby in there, then the Liu family should be worried because I wasn’t pregnant at the wedding. Well, that direct little American outburst shocked them into silence. Then I got a reputation among the women of having a bad temper. I guess that wasn’t a bad thing. They stopped poking my stomach and started going to temples to pray that Liu Yuni would get leave so my mother-in-law would have a grandbaby soon. One day when we were alone in the kitchen with my mother-in-law’s favorite daughter, she told me via translation that most of Liu Yuni’s cousins had been pregnant before their wedding nights. So the old aunties just assumed that it was the same for me. After all, if you weren’t pregnant, why would you possibly want to get married? The pressure on me to produce an heir was tremendous.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Honeymoon with "Lightbulbs"

Note: In Chinese "lightbulbs" are friends or younger siblings who are asked to accompany a couple on dates to be sure hanky-panky is kept to a minimum.

Breakfast at the soy milk shop.

Liu Yuni by the "sea of clouds" on the Southern Cross Island Highway.

see above

Me and my lightbulbs on the East Coast of Taiwan (Pacific Ocean and California in background)

Cousin Brian and a hopeful aborigine girl all dresed up for the fertility or marriage dance. (Don't tell Brian's wife!!)

In the Taroko Gorge along the Central Cross-Island Highway

Early in the morning after our frantically busy wedding night, the entire Liu family got up to pick up my relatives at the hotel and take them out for hot soy milk and fried crullers, a delicious Chinese breakfast. You can either get the sweetened soy milk or soy milk with onions, shrimp, meat, and other flavorings; they call it “salty soy milk,” and it’s best with vinegar added.

After breakfast we took everyone to see our new house that was still under construction, and then we delivered my parents to the airport to catch their flight. We spent quite a bit of time in the airport, waiting with them in the lobby until the sign notified them their flight was up for “immigration inspection.” From the airport, Liu Yuni and I and my cousins got into Youngest Maternal Uncle’s new car and headed off on our honeymoon. The rest of the Lius went home to clean up after the wedding. By having American relatives, I avoided the onerous chore of sweeping up the firecracker paper in the street in front of my new home.

That day we drove all the way down to the southernmost tip of Taiwan to a point called Oluanbi. We took pictures there, played on the rocks and went to Kenting National Park. We stayed at a church guest house not far from Oluanbi point and continued our journey the next morning. We came up northwards to the Southern Cross-Island Highway and drove over to the East Coast of Taiwan. There is not much land on the East Coast, and the two-lane highway snakes along the rocky shore between the Pacific Ocean and Taiwan’s central mountain range. Liu Yuni was tired, and there was no other traffic, so he let me drive his uncle’s car. There weren’t many places to stop. The scenery was pretty much poor farms huddled against the foothills of the mountains that produced papayas and bananas. Even sugar cane and betel nut didn’t grow too well on this side of the mountains. The coast was so rocky and the ocean so rough that there were not many fishing villages, either. Most of the people living on the Pacific side of the central mountain range are the aborigines. They have a large cultural center for tourists in the eastern city of Hualien, and that was our destination for the second night.

After checking into our hotel, we took my cousins to an Indian dance and singing show at the aborigine’s cultural center. With three American faces on the off-season, we were given ring-side seats. One of the dancers took a fancy to Cousin Brian and got him to dress up and participate in the show. We got some great pictures; I sure hope he had a good time.

The next morning we headed up along the Central Cross-Island Highway through the Taroko Gorge, which is one of the most spectacular scenic areas in Taiwan. There are a number of pagodas and temples up on rocky crags in the hills, and the highway twists torturously through along the cliffs of the gorge. The western end of that highway is Lishan or Pear Mountain where Taiwan’s fruit industry has its orchards. We drove down out of the mountains into the western plains in the middle of the island, had dinner with Eldest Sister in Toufen, and then headed back up to Chung-li for the cousins’ last night with us.

The next morning we dropped my cousins off at the airport and went to the Office of Household Registry to register the marriage. We had fourteen days from the court wedding to register our marriage. Less than ten had gone by, so we felt quite safe. When we arrived at the Office of Household Registry in Chung-li there was quite a crowd. We waited and waited in the line for registering births and marriages. The person two places ahead of us in line was an officer in the unit next to Liu Yuni’s. Liu Yuni had hit a home run in the last interunit baseball game, and that officer’s unit had lost the championship. Yuni whispered this to me as we were waiting, and my palms began to sweat. Would the officer get revenge by ratting us out?

The line fed into three windows behind a tall desk. You went up to the window and presented your papers to the clerk behind the desk. The officer went to the window on the left. Then the person ahead of us went to the middle window. We were called to the window on the right. We presented our marriage certificate and the Liu family’s Household Register and asked to have our marriage recorded. The clerk said, “Not until the bride presents her Naturalization of Overseas Chinese papers.”

I said, “That is impossible. I’m not Chinese, and I am not going to be naturalized as a citizen in Taiwan because I could lose my US citizenship. There is no way I am doing that. All you need to do is record the fact that we are married, so I can get a permanent resident certificate.”

The clerk hemmed and hawed. She insisted I needed to be naturalized before she could put my name on the register. Everyone in the place was staring at us. The officer was on his way out, but he turned his head, did a double-take, and it looked like he was coming over. My heart stopped beating. I turned bright red. Finally, a supervisor came over to see what was going on and the officer headed out the door.

The supervisor told the clerk that I was not to be registered as a “citizen-member” of the household. She just needed to record my name in the Household Register in the box marked “Spouse” under Liu Yuni’s name. Then she needed to write my name on his ID card. I would take those two documents to get my permanent resident card. The supervisor went back to his desk in the rear. The clerk was now embarrassed because everyone in the office was looking at us. She looked at Liu Yuni, she looked at his school records, she looked at the length of time he had been in school. Then she asked, “How come you haven’t graduated yet? Shouldn’t you be in the military by now?”

Liu Yuni told her that he had one last class of English to finish before he could graduate. He also said he had had to take time off from school due to a family emergency, so it was taking him longer than usual to graduate. She had no record of him being in the military, and the island of Taiwan was not yet computerized, so she recorded the marriage and congratulated us.

As we walked out of the office, the military officer was waiting for us. He congratulated us and told us he, too, would be in my English class. He had wanted to help us before realizing that if he came over, we would not be able to get registered. He had been there to register the birth of his first son. We congratulated each other on major mile-stones in life and went our separate ways. I was weak in the knees and a little sick to my stomach. That night Liu Yuni returned to his military base by 6 pm with a sack full of candy and cartons of cigarettes for all the soldiers in the unit. I went to my room in his family’s home to start my life as a Chinese daughter-in-law.
PS. Sorry this is so late. It has taken me several days uploading a few pictures at a time to get this out. We are having a heat wave, and the blogger picture function doesn't seem to like it. There are other pictures that will go on other posts, I guess.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our Traditional Wedding Feast

Firecrackers in the street in front of the bridal car.

The bride out of the car getting ready to go up to her bridal chamber.

The groom leading the bride through the throngs of relatives and guests into his home.

The line of well-wishers outside the bridal chamber waiting to have their picture taken inside with the bride.

Cousin Jill in line downstairs waiting to go up to see the bride.

A well-wisher having her picture taken with the now cross-eyed bride.

The first few courses of the wedding feast on the serving table outside the house. Cooking stoves are in the road to the right. Door to the house is to the left. (Notice the banner with the 8 Immortals over the front of the house.)

The bride descends to attend the wedding feast.

The bride and groom scarf down a few mouthfuls of food.

Toasting the guests one table at a time.

There are 21 tables in the street and living room and one at a nearby restaurant.

Well-wishers come to the head table to toast the bride and groom.

Passing out candy and cigarettes as guests leave the feast.

After the church wedding, some of our friends, who were not going to the dinner, took care of all the clean-up for us. The Liu relatives, my American relatives, and our closest friends boarded the buses and cars to head down to Chung-li for the traditional wedding feast. The bride was supposed to arrive only after everyone was seated. Liu Yuni and I stayed behind with one of the fancier cars, so I could make my spectacular entrance. The weather had turned cold and a little rainy; two of Liu Yuni’s friends ran home to get coats and came back to ride in the car with us. I was a little worried about how my parents and American friends would do at the party with the Liu relatives, but we kept waiting around until his friends returned. In those days, there were no cell phones in Taiwan, so we had no way to contact them to find out when they were coming. It turned out that their home was two bus rides away. We did not set out until almost an hour after everyone had left.

Once started we sped down the highway from Chung-li to Taipei. The guests were all seated at the tables drinking soda and beer and eating watermelon seeds and talking and laughing. They had divided themselves among Mandarin, Hakka, and English speakers. A number of the neighbors realized that we were getting married and invited themselves over for the feast. All the tables were filled to the overflowing with guests. Smaller children had no seats of their own, but ate from their parents bowls and ran around among the tables. Liu Yuni’s military unit had not yet arrived when we got there. When they did get there, Liu Yuni’s eldest sister and brother-in-law had to take them to the restaurant at the corner and give them their own special feast so we could keep our promise to his commander.

The bridal car was decorated with a flower wreath on the grille. A number of the boys in the Liu clan with Liu Yuntian were waiting at the outermost alley in their neighborhood with baskets of firecrackers. When they saw the car turn in off the county road, they lit the first string of firecrackers and ran ahead of our car to the next intersection. They heralded us in with long strings of firecrackers at every intersection. Several tables for the closest relatives had not been set up yet because the bride had to drive under the tents to get out of the car. As our car pulled into the tent, two uncles lit large strings of firecrackers on the road in front of the car. We sat inside the car until the firecrackers had stopped popping, and then the car drove in under the tent. I was handed out by Liu Yuni and led into the house. Since everyone had seen me in my red silk dress, I was now in my maroon and red winter coat as my second outfit of the evening. Liu Yuni’s sisters and mother took me off his hand and led me through the tables and up the stairs to my bedroom where I changed into my chi-pao (cheongsam) and then sat on the bed.

The car was moved out of the tent, the other tables were set up, and the appetizer course of the wedding feast was served to the guests. I sat in my bedroom for the first three or four courses while everyone took turns coming up to see my bridal chamber and have their pictures taken with the bride. I gave lucky US pennies instead of red envelopes to the children. Finally, Liu Yuni’s sisters came to bring me down to the feast. I was seated at the head table with my relatives, teacher, Liu Yuni’s parents, and the English interpreter. I got to eat a few bites of food, and then people started coming over to toast the bride. (I was only given tea to drink.) Then Liu Yuni, Pa Liu, Eldest Sister, and I had to go around to all the tables and toast all the guests. When we had finished the tables in the living room and tent, we walked to the restaurant on the corner and toasted Liu Yuni’s army buddies. We got back to our table, and I ate a few more bites in between people coming to toast us. By this time, some of the guests had finished already and were beginning to leave. Liu Yuni and I had to stand at the outside end of the tent with trays of candy and cigarettes and say good-bye to all the guests. By the time, everyone had left, the cooks were cleaning up their pots in the gutter, and the feast was over.

Now it was time to take my relatives to the hotel. The next morning we were going to drop my parents off at the airport for their flight home, and then we would head off on our honeymoon with my cousins. As we got into the car to take them to the hotel, my parents realized that their luggage was in one of the uncles’ cars, and it had already gone back to Toufen (a town an hour south of Chung-li). Of course, they didn’t know which uncle they rode with, and things had been so confused that no one remembered who had driven them. We called the uncles and cousins whose cars had been used until we found the person with my parents’ luggage. We left my relatives at the hotel, and then Liu Yuni and I drove off to Toufen to get my parents’ luggage with their passports and plane tickets. It was after midnight by the time we had delivered the luggage to them and gotten home. And we had to leave with my parents for the airport very early the next morning. But Liu Yuni and Pa Liu had to count the money gifts and figure out how much we had to spend on our honeymoon. We got very little sleep that night, but it was NOT anyone’s typical wedding night.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Church Wedding

My bridesmaids and I listening to speeches and/or praying.

Yuni and the groomsmen singing

My family and the English interpreter (the microphone has a transmitter, and all English speakers could hear the translation on FM radios)

the Liu family and Hakka interpreter

My dad's speech

My mom's speech

Pa Liu's speech

Some of my American friends

Some of our Chinese friends

The guardians of the cake tables

The day before our church wedding and the big wedding feast, my dad’s cousin Brian and his daughter Jill arrived to help us celebrate. I was so happy to have more of my own relatives there. Fortunately for me, the church had had an international training that went up until a week before my wedding. A number of my friends had come for the training and decided to stay for my wedding. In the end, instead of just one bridesmaid like the Chinese usually had, I had four: one of my friends who had gone to the same high school with me, one of my friends from my college years, and two friends from Taiwan. Liu Yuni got four of his best friends to sit with him as groomsmen. My American friends had not planned on being in a wedding party, so my bridesmaids wore the training uniform—a navy skirt, white blouse, and zipper sweatshirt. In keeping with Chinese customs, we didn’t walk in as a procession. The bridesmaids sat in four chairs to my right and the groomsmen sat in four chairs to Yuni’s left. We were on a single row across in front of the speaker’s platform in the main church hall with a large flower arrangement on the podium behind us. Our guests were seated in chairs arranged in a U-shape facing us. My relatives sat in the front row directly across from me, and Liu Yuni’s family had the entire section directly across from him. My relatives and friends had radio access to the interpreter. Liu Yuni’s mother, grandmother and eldest aunt were close enough to hear the Hakka interpreter, but I don’t think that everyone in his family who needed interpretation could hear the interpreter. I had not realized how many of them would be at the church when I made all my plans.

During the month before my wedding I had made up a little booklet for our wedding with the hymns, a few Bible verses, and the story of how we met and what we hoped our future would be like. It was in English on one page and Chinese on the facing page. My friends at the publishing company had helped me, and it looked very nice. Everyone who attended the wedding received a copy.

The morning of the wedding I went to the hair dressers to get my hair and make-up done. The make-up artist was quite excited to do her first “Western-doll” bride. But she failed to take my skin coloring into consideration. Most Chinese brides want to appear as white as possible on their wedding day. They usually wear eight layers of pancake make-up. I lay back in the chair for the make-up. The make-up artist kept applying layer after layer of whitish foundation. My skin is naturally very white. I have a hard time even getting a tan; usually I burn red like a tomato. By the third layer of pancake make-up I was beginning to look like the bride of Dracula. I kept trying to tell the make-up artist that I thought I had more than enough make-up on my face. She got upset and insisted on doing all eight layers of foundation. Finally, the hairdresser and owner of the shop told the make-up lady that she needed to consider my natural skin color. It wouldn’t do for me to be so pale I looked like a corpse because that would be considered unlucky. The make-up artist reluctantly stopped with the foundation and began painting on the eyeliner and lipstick. The eye make-up was tastefully done; the lipstick was bright, bright red. So in the end, I looked like a vampire with blood on my lips. Fortunately, the make-up was so on so thick, I did not need any more for the rest of the day. After the make-up artist left, the hairdresser did my hair.

After I was all dressed and ready, I did the unthinkable for a Chinese bride. I went to the church hall and made sure that everything was in place and going smoothly for my wedding. I checked the guest sign-in sheet and gift tables, the photography and videographers, the cake tables, and the chair arrangements. All my friends were laughing at me because Chinese brides are supposed to wait around demurely while everyone else takes care of things. But I was too excited to sit still.

Finally, the Liu family arrived. They came in two buses and as many cars as they could borrow. Most of the cars and seats on the buses were empty because these were the vehicles that would be transporting my family and our friends from Taipei down to Chung-li for the wedding feast that night.

The wedding went off quite nicely. We sang some hymns, some of the elders spoke on the Bible verses, and then our friends and acquaintances stood up and shared their support for our marital union. Some of my friends assured Liu Yuni’s family that I would be a good wife and daughter-in-law. Some of Liu Yuni’s friends attested to his good character to assure me and my family that he would be a good husband. General Manager took it upon himself to give his blessing as our matchmaker. In the Chinese culture this means that if we had problems in the first few years of marriage, the matchmaker would also come in to help negotiate a solution in the disagreements, especially if the two families were unsuccessful at resolving the issues by themselves. It also meant that he was giving up his former stance of opposing our marriage. Liu Yuni’s father spoke and gave his blessing to our marriage. Both of my parents spoke. I don’t remember much of what anyone said. I was in this sort of trance throughout much of the wedding. When there was no one else who wanted to say anything, we sang a few more hymns, and then all our church friends came up to have their pictures taken with us. They came singly, they came in groups, they came with their children, their friends, their mothers. We stood there with the flowers on the podium as the background and smiled until our faces froze.

In the meantime, Liu Yuni’s relatives polished off most of the cakes for 500. Some of them had never had western-style cakes before, and they really enjoyed them. I was somewhat mortified because the relatives would all be attending the dinner feast, and I had planned the cakes for our friends who had not been invited to the dinner. What I did not realize at the time was that each of the Liu relatives had given large gifts of money to Pa Liu and Liu Yuni, enough to pay for the wedding feast and our honeymoon with some to spare. Therefore, the Liu clan felt entitled to the lion’s share of the cakes and things. They assumed that the cakes had been bought with their gift money. Most of the people from church felt the same way because that is the way Chinese weddings work. Many people from church had just come to see who I was marrying. They had not given us any gifts or any money, so they did not feel comfortable eating the cakes.
And so my education in the practicalities of traditional Chinese families began; I knew the theories from my text books and from Teacher Chin, but I was embarking on a lifetime of learning how those theories work in real life.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Court Wedding

Liu Yuni signs his life away.

Ma Liu signs as a witness.

I affix my John Hancock.

All lined up and waiting for the judge.

The judge conducts the ceremony.

Our name has been called to go up and get the signed certificates.

Outside the restaurant with both sets of parents.


My parents arrived in Taiwan on the evening of December 24, 1986. They were there a few days before the church wedding to attend our court wedding. The following morning, Liu Yuni and his parents drove up from Chung-li, and we all headed off to the court. Liu Yuni wore his engagement suit, and I just wore a purple skirt and sweater vest. Since we were having the big party and dinner feast in a few days, we decided to keep things simple for the court.

When we got to the Taipei Municipal Court Building, it was a zoo. There were several courtrooms, and mass weddings were occurring in all of them. Women in white wedding dresses and men in formal suits were scurrying up and down the halls looking for the restrooms or a place to change or the right courtroom. Little girls in white dresses were running around trying to find their relatives. The entire building was buzzing with the sounds of all this humanity. We found the check-in table and presented our letter. We were in the 11:00 group, but we got there a little bit after 10 in the morning to be sure we had time for everything. The clerk at the check-in desk gave us our courtroom number and told us to sign in at the table beside the door. We found the place, and went to sign the wedding licenses. We had wanted both our fathers to sign, but the clerk said that we had to have Taiwanese citizens as witnesses, so they had changed our second witness to Liu Yuni’s mother. She got very nervous at the thought of having to sign her name because she had only completed second grade, and it had been more than thirty years since she had written anything. The clerk said she could just use her thumb print, but she wanted to sign her name because she was not totally illiterate. The clerk gave us a sheet of paper so she could practice. Liu Yuni wrote her name out clearly for her to copy, and she practiced one or two times. She did a great job. We all signed four times, twice on the Chinese licenses and twice on the English translations.

Then we stood outside the door and watched the 10:00 group getting married. The couples were lined up in five lines of five pairs in the center of the courtroom. Their witnesses stood along the walls at the back and sides of the room. The judge stood behind his large desk in the front of the courtroom. His bailiff called out the commands. First, the couples bowed to the judge. Then they turned and bowed to their parents. Finally, they bowed to each other. The judge said a few words and then sat down to sign twenty-five marriage certificates in duplicate for Chinese only couples and in quadruplicate for international couples who needed the English translations. The couples stood in their places waiting for their names to be called. Then they walked up, got their certificates and left the courtroom. As they were standing there waiting for the judge, their friends and relatives ran around with cameras taking pictures from all angles. It was a very simple ceremony, and it was carried out with great efficiency. (We later heard on the news that 3000 couples were married in the court in Taipei that day.)

By 10:45, the 10:00 group was all finished. The judge went back to his chambers and the bailiff called in the 11:00 couples. Yuni and I were in the middle of the second row. After we were lined up, we all practiced the bowing routine once, and the bailiff called in the judge. The judge did and said exactly the same thing as he had done and said for the 10:00 group. We bowed three times, listened to the judge pronounce us husband and wife, and then got our signed official marriage licenses when our names were called. Since we were only the seventh couple called, we were out of the court and finished with everything by 11:30. The friends who had let us use their home for the engagement ceremony had given us gift certificates to the Christmas dinner buffet in the western-style restaurant on the first floor of their building. The six of us went for a nice turkey dinner. Then the Lius went home, and I took my parents back to their guest room at the church.

I felt so relieved because our biggest hurdle had been crossed. I had an official court wedding certificate that I could get registered with the Department of Household Registry. Then I could get an official copy of the Liu family’s Household Register with my name on it so that I could get my permanent resident status and renew my passport in time. I was sure that I was no longer in danger of becoming a “woman without a country.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wedding Preparations

Since we had the house and knew we would get the funds in time for the wedding, Mr. Liu and I again went our separate ways to make preparations. He worked it out with the construction company building the house that at a certain point in the construction process, his own company would come in to make custom modifications for our family. He also went to the city to apply for permits to finish half of the third story into a bedroom, bath, and small sitting area for Liu Yuni and me. There was a tatami alcove in behind the bathroom that could be used for reading, or later when we had kids, the kids could sleep there. The front half of the third floor was the roof garden and laundry area. On the second floor, Ma and Pa Liu had the master bedroom in the front half of the house, while there were two smaller bedrooms and a half bath in the back half for the girls to share. The living room/dining room took up the front half of the first floor; there was another full bath under the stairs, and Liu Yuntian had the first floor bedroom off the kitchen in the back of the house. The house was on a gated dead-end street with only three other houses. It was quiet, and there were a number of rice paddies in the neighborhood, so for the first year or so, it was also cool. (Then, everything around us got built up, too.)

My preparations presented a much greater headache. I had to find a way to get Defense Department approval of the wedding so I could legally register as Liu Yuni’s wife, obtain my permanent resident “blue book”, and renew my passport. I spoke with General Manager, and he suggested we try to pull strings through the wives of several high-ranking officials who were members of the church. At one point, I had tutored the wife of one of Taiwan’s ambassadors in Spanish. The ambassador was a high-ranking general, and his wife also had many connections in the Defense Department. I went to a luncheon one Sunday at noon with several women like the ambassador’s wife and explained my predicament to them. None of them was successful in getting us permission. But a seed was sown. Eventually, one of my co-workers had a daughter who was dating the son of the highest-ranking Army general at the time. The daughter knew Liu Yuni from church and wanted to help us. She persuaded the son to speak to his father on our behalf. In the end, we obtained a kind of verbal permission. IF we were able to have a regular court wedding, and IF Liu Yuni was able to get leave from his commander, THEN the Defense Department would not give us any trouble when we registered the marriage. This really wasn’t any permission at all, but what that high-ranking commander did not know was that on the day in basic training, when the Army took all the new recruits’ ID cards and stamped them “active military”, Liu Yuni was not there. The night before, a huge fire had broken out in the kitchen of the neighboring unit and all personnel with construction experience on the base had been roused in the wee hours of the morning to get it repaired. Since Liu Yuni’s first-place records in bricklaying competitions and his construction licenses were recorded with the government, the Army had full knowledge of them. He had been named crew leader of the kitchen-repair team. He worked night and day for three weeks without returning to his basic training unit. He only finished the repair two days before he was shipped off to his regular duty post. Since he missed the processing day, his ID card still showed him as a full-time student.

I got his ID card on a visit to his permanent base where we both spoke with his unit commander. The commander was slated to take a promotion exam in the spring and needed to learn some English. The commander said that if we fed the entire unit when he brought them to the wedding feast and if I would teach him and three friends English once a week for the first three months of our marriage, he would give Liu Yuni whatever leave he needed. So one of the “if’s” was taken care of. When I got back to Taipei, I went to the Municipal Court to register for a court wedding. December 25th is “Constitution Day” in Taiwan, and it is a national holiday. The court holds mass weddings in all of its courtrooms all day long on December 25. Usually about twenty-five couples get married at a time in each courtroom, with a new group coming in every hour on the hour. I thought that would be the best time for us because my parents could be there, AND no one would ask questions about Liu Yuni’s military hair cut. The lady at the court asked me why the groom had not come along to do the paperwork. I told her that he was working outside of Taipei. She asked about his classes. I said that he only had one English class left to go, and it did not meet during the day. He only came to Taipei when he needed to. (None of this was a lie, but neither was it the entire truth. I had managed to pick up some arts of Chinese pragmatic dissembling.) The lady said that he was lucky to be getting such a pretty and capable bride, and gave me all the forms to fill out. When I had filled them out in Chinese, she was even more impressed and gave me the letter that would get us into our court wedding time-slot. “If” number two was taken care of.

My next step was to meet with the father of a friend from church who had a bakery that specialized in “Western-style” cakes. We were having an open church wedding—as many people from church as wanted could come to the service, but we were only inviting about 40 or 50 of our church friends to the wedding feast prepared by the Lius in Chung-li. I ordered snacks and individual cakes for 350. My friend’s father added extras to bring it up to enough for 500 as a wedding gift. I got people to man the guest book and gift table. Other friends offered to help with the snack table and the flowers. I found a friend to video tape the wedding for me, and another one to take pictures. I also found a Mandarin-English interpreter for my relatives and a Mandarin-Hakka interpreter for Liu Yuni’s relatives. I worked with my hair dresser to design a hair-style and had her find me a make-up artist because Mrs. Liu insisted that all brides had to wear at least some make-up. The only thing left to find was a dress or two or three because Chinese brides are supposed to change several times during the ceremony.

According to Chinese tradition, all of this, including the dresses should have been handled by the family of the groom. The bride’s family does the engagement party, and the groom’s does the wedding. But Mr. Liu did not know anything about church weddings, and they did not have the money to put up for fancy dresses or cakes or anything. They could barely cover most of the down-payment on the house, the customizing of the home (also a big part of Chinese wedding preparations), the bed for our suite (but I bought my own desk, armoire, and sitting room chairs), and the big traditional wedding feast in the street outside their home under a striped awning-like tent. I was used to thinking that the wedding was the work of the bride, so I wasn’t bothered by this. I liked being able to plan things my own way.

In the middle of November, I went back to the US for two weeks to pack up my things and ship them to Taiwan. I also got the money from my grandfathers to pay the balance of the down-payment on the house and to cover some of my expenses for the wedding. My mom bought me a lovely red silk dress (the Chinese lucky wedding color) and a maroon and red coat to wear for the outside part of the party. That counted as two of my dress changes. I wanted to have a formal Chinese chi-pao made, and my dad gave me money for that. As soon as I got back to Taiwan, I went to the tailor around the corner from the hair dressers, purchased red-and-gold flowered brocade, and ordered my dress.

When my worldly possessions arrived, General Manager had to pay a huge bribe to get them through customs in time. That was his wedding gift to me. My friends from work gave me a small refrigerator for my sitting room and a hot plate so I could make tea on the third floor. Other friends from church gave me a rice cooker, an electric sandwich maker, a toaster, a waffle iron, lamps, and all kinds of household items. My family gave me a washer and dryer. When the Lius came to cart my stuff the day before the wedding, it filled the bed of their pick-up truck. I had not realized it, but apparently this was a good thing because there is a Chinese idiom about a bride coming to the family “with an ox-cart full of bridal gifts.” The Lius gained much face among their family because they had not had to pay out the bride price money to my family instead they had been able to use it to purchase their own home, and I still came with a truckload of bride gifts. My relatives and friends were just showing their love and support for me, and they unwittingly bought me much goodwill among the elders on both sides of Liu Yuni’s extended family. This goodwill enabled me to make a number of huge mistakes in my first few years of marriage while I was getting used to living in a very traditional family.