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…)