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…)


murat11 said...

Ah, the family road trip. I like how it seems that, with most of the Taiwanese family quandaries, if someone is willing to step up and take responsibility (a la Youngest Maternal Uncle), then things are able to move smoothly back into place.

Gorgeous country you all were traveling through.

Teresa said...

There is a definite fear of being blamed for creating the bad luck.

Youngest Maternal Uncle is a really cool guy. He is only 7 or 8 months older than Elder Sister. Grandma Chu and Ma were pregnant at the same time for a month or so. So he is only about 3 years older than Yuni. He lent us his nice sedan for our honeymoon with "lightbulbs."

The other point that maybe didn't come through so well is the adaptibility of Grandma Chu. Totally illiterate. She grew up dirt poor. She was sold as a child bride (spelled slave to her husband's family) to feed her own family. Her husband's family was also poor. At times they only had one good shirt that was suitable for going to market. Whoever was going shopping wore the shirt. She had 16 pregnancies, 12 live births (all at home with a midwife), and 11 of her children survived to adulthood. She just rolled with the punches, adapted her diet, did things she had never done before, and all with a smile on her face and a deep appreciative chuckle. She got the most gold when they were panning for gold, too. I am so glad Youngest Maternal Uncle stepped up for her because to the day of her death, she considered our trip to America the most memorable experience of her life. We did so many things that Chinese tour groups don't do, and we did take care to do things that they could enjoy without language.

It was a really fun time.

Cloudia said...

Such an interesting story, Teresa!

Aloha & Nihau, Friend

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