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.


murat11 said... she recorded the marriage and congratulated us. I love how, invariably, these bureaucratic contretemps always end on a congratulatory note; not likely to happen here in the US. Not even likely that you'll get the kind of flexibility ultimately shown. I'm thinking of horrific bureaucratic showdowns in New Orleans: Kafka ain't got nuthin on them. The only thing that always ran smoothly and like clockwork was Mardi Gras: I guess for the rest of the year, the city recovered from its atypical efficiency.

Thanks for the pictures and the travel-guide.

Hanky-panky kept to a minimum? I thought that was the purpose of a honeymoon!

Looking forward to the saga, as it continues into the days of growing a family. You certainly have your work cut out for you, Sister T, and I doubt that your mijas are gonna let you off the hook.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Teresa,

This will all be printed out into an book when you have it all down, right?

This belongs on the shelf, not just on the web.

The funny thing is, I know how it ends up, at least too now, and at least, the gist of it, yet I was very worried for you with the meddlesome and officious counter-lady (and I remember them, well).


Teresa said...

Well, yes, the lack of hanky-panky created quite a stir in the extended family when I was obviously not pregnant within seconds of the wedding night.

Maybe New Orleans just needs a good old Mardi Gras buzz of beer and king cake to grease the wheels of bureaucracy. Taiwanese bureaucrats routinely do several bottle lunches. I think it keeps them happy.

Teresa said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your kind words.

Do you know a good, cheap publisher?? Right now I am writing for the fun of it. But it would be nice to have it in book form, too. Then I could give the kids autographed copies.

I'm glad that one of us knows how it ends because I am getting to the hard part where I go so deep into native thinking that it comes out only in Chinese. I had a meeting with my thesis advisor, and we were talking about women in traditional Chinese culture. I had a lot I wanted to say, but nothing would come out. She just laughed and told me to stop thinking in Chinese and still nothing would come out... I may need the Heroine's translation services.

Cloudia said...

Fresh soy milk for breakfast!
What a geat discription of your honeymoon and burocraatic hurdles!
My husban looked over and was fascinated by your family photo.
He sends regards, and told me this Guan Yin and Hotai we've had for years come from his trip to Taipei in the 60s!

Aloha my seperated at birth sister!

Comfort Spiral

Cloudia said...

Chris is right! Yours is story that demands ro be recorded and shared!

Teresa said...

Dear Cloudia,

My greetings to your husband. He was in Taipei before it turned into a modern metropolis. I bet he had fun.

Thanks for your encouragement about doing this as a book. It is a possibility. I think it would be fun. My grandmother always thought I should write my memoirs one day. That was one of the impetuses (impeti) for doing the blog. I figured 20 years was a large enough accumulation of memories to give me something worthwhile to say. I also think the passage of time has given me deeper insights into the processes I went through. I can see the humor in things now, but at the time, I was frequently very red and very frustrated.

Aloha to you, too. Hawaii will feature in an upcoming post...

Teresa said...

To Murat, Chris, and Cloudia,

I also have to say that I am so glad I did this project first in the blogosphere. Without the blog I would never have gotten to make friends like you. It is truly a wondrous process, casting bits of my story upon the waters, and having them return with like-minded fellow-travelers on the journey of life.