Thursday, June 25, 2009

No Church Wedding unless my Parents Meet the Groom First

After the Liu family’s approval of our relationship, Joshua and I began telling our friends in church that we were a couple. Most of them were shocked. My roommates could not fathom what I saw in him because “he is so dark.” Many of my roommates were also very prejudiced against his Hakka subculture and told me that Hakka daughters-in-law were expected to work hard. I was not sure why they thought hard work would be a problem, and my friends’ views of Hakka families certainly did not match up to what I had seen when visiting the Liu family.

I had to renew my visa toward the end of February, and the clerk noted that I had thirteen months left on my passport. He urged me to look into options for renewing my passport because he had dealt with other Americans who had had trouble if they waited until they had less than six months left. I thanked him for the tip and went to the American Institute in Taiwan, a quasi-governmental agency that issues US visas and helps US citizens with services under the auspices of the American consulate in Hong Kong. The people at AIT told me that they were only authorized to renew passports of US citizens holding permanent residence status in Taiwan. So I began my quest for a “blue book”, the Taiwanese equivalent of a “green card.” Since I did simultaneous interpretation of church conferences from the back of the audience or from a translation booth instead of standing beside the speaker on the pulpit, I did not qualify for a religious visa. I was not a real “minister.” The church publishing company was five employees short of qualifying to hire me as a foreign specialist and getting me a “blue book.” The only avenue left was for me to marry a Taiwanese citizen.

Liu Yuni and I met with the church elders about a church wedding as soon as possible. And their answer was a resounding, “No!” The elders reasoned that our family backgrounds were too different and that my parents had not yet met my prospective groom. They were sure that my parents would not approve of my marrying someone engaged in physical labor or a professional trade. They were convinced that my parents would forbid me to marry into a family where my in-laws had so little education. They told us that they could not stop us from having a court wedding, but if we wanted the church to bless our marriage, we needed approval from both sets of parents. And they thought that Liu Yuni should be finished with his mandatory tour of military duty before we even considered marriage. They told me to renew my passport over the summer when I went home for a visit. I told them that according to the people at AIT, I would need to stay in the US and pay taxes for a year before I would be eligible to do that. The elders did not believe that the workers at AIT properly represented the US government, and they were sure I would have no problems once I arrived in the US.

When we mentioned the church elders’ concerns to Mr. Liu, he agreed that he would feel better about the marriage if my parents got to meet his family and his son first. He also wanted to spend time with me discussing my views on supporting aging parents-in-law and on funeral rites and honoring dead ancestors. So Liu Yuni took a leave of absence from his last semester in school and signed up to immediately begin his military tour of duty. By mid-March, he was inducted to the army and sent to Ilan for three months of basic training. I called home several times about the situation. At first, my entire family was planning to come for an April wedding during my brother’s spring break from vet school. After the church’s opposition, they cancelled their plane reservations, and my mother decided to come in May for my twenty-fifth birthday and to meet her potential son-in-law.

Every weekend I would either take the train by myself to the military base in Ilan to visit Liu Yuni, or I would ride with the Liu family when they all went to see him. Mr. Liu kept me in the front of the truck on those rides, and we discussed the all-important issue of filial piety. I later learned that the extended family had told him stories about American families and how American children allowed elderly parents to die in poverty or even charged them for rent or elder care. Mr. Liu wanted to know about my parents’ relationships with my grandparents and my grandparents’ relationships with my great-grandparents. He was quite relieved to learn that my grandparents on both sides of the family had taken aging great-grandparents into their homes and cared for them for years without charging them rent or nursing fees. I was shocked that people would think such things about Americans. He asked me how much money I contributed to the support of my parents every month. I responded that they made so much money that they didn’t need or want my support. I also told him about Teacher Chin’s Chinese daughter-in-law lessons and that I understood the dynamics and structure of Chinese families.

So our conversation turned to funerals and worshipping ancestors. Mr. Liu had been very impressed as a young man at Chiang Kai-shek’s state funeral. Madame Chiang had not allowed the masses who crowded the route of Chiang Kai-shek’s funeral cortege to burn incense in worship of him because the family was Christian. Instead, she asked that everyone throw flowers, and she asked people of all faiths to pray for blessings on the country in Chiang’s memory. In my description of US funerals I had been to, I told Mr. Liu that there were prayers for the dead person’s soul, that people shared their memories of the person’s life, and that frequently the funeral ended with prayers for the rest of the person’s family. He was very interested in the funeral flowers. I told him that most people sent arrangements of flowers and that sometimes the mourners or family members would file past the casket and place flowers on it or throw flowers into the grave. I also told him that in many families, the family members would regularly place fresh flowers on the person’s grave. In the end, we arrived at an understanding. If I married into his family, my children and I would be exempt from burning incense to the Liu ancestors, but we would be expected to purchase and present large wreaths at funerals. During the funeral ceremonies, we would have to stand before the casket with our heads bowed in prayer for the entire Liu family after we had presented our wreaths. We would wear the traditional funeral attire and march in the funeral procession according to our rank in the family. We would not participate in the traditional tomb sweeping activities when everyone else was burning incense, but either before or after, we would go up to the tomb, pray to the Christian God for the Liu family, and place flowers on the family tomb.

With these crucial matters settled, Mr. Liu became a strong advocate of our marriage. The church leaders who personally knew Liu Yuni also agreed that we were well-matched in temperament. But we still had to convince the ones who could only see the outward differences in culture and social status. I told them that I wanted to marry someone with much darker skin than mine, so my children would be less likely to get painful sunburns. I told them that I looked at a person’s character and natural intelligence more than his or her level of education and social rank. The members of the Liu family are all very bright and of generally good character. I also told them that money came and went easily. I was not really worried about the family’s finances. Nor was I afraid of hard work. I was impressed with the industriousness of all the Lius, and I believed (correctly) that their financial setbacks were temporary. Nevertheless, I was again inundated with a flood of potential suitors that church matchmakers felt were more “suitable” prospects. Their attitudes made me pretty angry, but I figured the best thing was to wait for my mom’s visit, since I wouldn’t get anywhere without my own parents’ approval of the match.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Show of Solidarity with Freedom Fighters Everywhere

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Sepiru Chris last week on his blog e-Cuneiform scratchings ( I told him that we all need to stand in solidarity to push back against the bullies and oppressors of the world. I applauded him for showing support for the memory of those who died at Tiananmen Square, even though his post came several days after June 4. Today I dedicate my post to the freedom fighters in Iran who are risking life and limb to demand fair elections and freedoms in their country. I cannot do more than post this in support of them, but I offer this poem by Chinese dissident poet Jiang Pinchao to show that sometimes the smallest of gestures means much to a suffering freedom fighter.

In his speech to students at Cal State Long Beach on April 13, 2009, Jiang Pianchao described his arrest and incarceration for taking part in the June Fourth student protests in China in 1989. Like most of the students, Jiang was sent back to his school to wait for the results of the government’s investigations. Many of the students did not believe that their government would retaliate against them with such cruel measures until after they were arrested, interrogated under torture, and imprisoned. Jiang was encouraged through his sufferings by his memories of a small gesture: a handshake from one of his teachers just prior to his arrest. The other speaker at CSULB that day, Bob Fu of China Aid Association was not so lucky. His blood-sworn brothers, who had demonstrated with him at Tiananmen, sold him out and placed all the blame squarely on him to save their own skins. The disillusionment that he felt from being sold out by his friends almost caused him to take his own life. These examples show that in the heat of the battle against injustice the smallest gesture of support can strengthen the combatants to stand firm to the bitter end.


By Jiang Pinchao
Translated by Teresa Zimmerman-Liu
Edited by Brian E. Hansen
Published in June Fourth Tiananmen Massacre Twentieth Anniversary Memorial Booklet

In the tree-breaking storm
you cared for the flowers
among the thistles in my path.
You did not avoid the thorns but
threw petals before me.
In my difficulties
I was lonely,
I needed understanding and support.
Your handshake
gave me what I lacked.
We did not speak at our solemn parting but
your eyes brimmed with pity, love, sorrow.

High walls, electric fences, guard towers,
blocked the desolate road ahead,
machine guns aimed at my thoughts, but
I know my responsibility.
When I am lost
I will remember your eyes.
When I feel lazy,
I will recall your hand’s touch.
I will remember.
I will rejoice.
I will ponder.
I will fight.

In this desolate wilderness
when life gave me a bitter drink
you allowed me to taste sweetness.
On this precipitous mountain road
where some would cut off my freedom
you whispered, “They are evil.”
On a freezing winter night
when history would lock me in a cold prison
you gave me a flame for warmth.

At the end of my life
I will have a rich harvest.
On this glorious journey
history will see a new dawn.
My fatherland will see
a day of democracy, a day of freedom,
a day of prosperity, and
I know this new day
will come because of you
because of your handshake.
As a zealous patriot for my fatherland
I etch your name
into the corner of our memorial.

March 23, 1990, Hanyang, China

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Call Back Interview

The third morning of the Chinese New Year 1986, I decided to sleep in. I was lazing in bed when the housemother knocked on the door of our room and called me to come answer the phone. I asked who it was, and she said, “Liu Hsiuchen.” I racked my brains trying to figure out who that was, but I thought I should answer it because I did not have the faintest idea who would be calling me on a day when the stores were still not opened and most people were out visiting relatives to wish them happy new year.

When I got to the phone, the voice on the other end told me she was one of Liu Yuni’s younger sisters. She said that her father had really liked me, so the entire family wanted to take me out to the beach and then to meet their eldest sister. The previous day, Liu Yuni’s mother and siblings had not spoken to me very much. They were polite at lunch, but they let the father do the talking. Now that he had given me his seal of approval, the others in the family wanted to get to know me. I told our housemother that Liu Yuni’s family wanted to take me to the beach and to meet their eldest sister. She was impressed and said that I really needed to go, if I truly liked Liu Yuni. So I told Liu Hsiuchen that I would be ready in thirty minutes. She said, “You need to hurry. My brother and I are downstairs at your door. We couldn’t find a parking place.” So I rushed to take a shower and get dressed.

Fifteen minutes later, we were on the road back to Chung-li to get the rest of the family. When we got to the Liu’s home, I was bustled into the main room to eat a little breakfast, while Liu Yuni and his younger brother put a metal frame and canvas cover over the back of the truck. It looked like a canvas camper. Next they began moving all the rattan arm chairs and sectional benches from the living room up into the back of the truck. Mrs. Liu and her daughters were bustling around in the kitchen packing large quantities of food for a picnic. They also had bags of fruit, dried tofu, watermelon seeds, and candy. It looked like they were packing provisions for several weeks.

While I was eating, Liu Yuni’s sisters came over one by one and sat with me for several minutes, introducing themselves and making small talk. Mrs. Liu kept smiling at me and pushing me to eat more and more meat buns. After seeing what they were doing to the truck, I was afraid to eat too much. I didn’t know if riding in the back would make me car sick. I really did not want that to happen.

Within a very short time, all things were ready. Mr. Liu had been cleaning out the front of the truck while his sons had fixed up the back. Mrs. Liu got in the middle front seat next to him, and I was told to sit next to her. The six Liu children all piled into the back. They handed fruit and snacks up to us through the window in the back of the truck’s cab. And we started off. We drove up the freeway to the North and got onto the coast road out to Ilan on the northeastern side of the island. The coastal highway was a twisting two-lane road between the craggy mountains to the West and the ocean to the right. There really wasn’t a “beach” on that side of the island. It was all rocky seashore with crashing waves. The scenery was spectacular. Mrs. Liu and I could not communicate very well. We would point at things, and I would teach her the Mandarin word while she taught me the word in Hakka. Mr. Liu was preoccupied with driving and did not add much to the conversation.

Part way to Ilan, we drove up into the mountains to see a waterfall. We got out of the truck and hiked a short distance to the falls. It was spectacular. At that point, Liu Yuntian had a petit mal epileptic seizure, and we had to rest for awhile before going on. When we got back in the truck, I was put into the back while Yuntian rode in the front with his parents. At the time, I did not know what had happened because I was ahead of him on the trail when the seizure happened. In the back of the truck, all his sisters were talking to me at once trying to explain his illness and to assure me that it was probably not hereditary. I was able to understand that Yuntian had developed this condition suddenly in the fifth grade on a stormy night when he was home alone after recently attending a ceremony to move his grandfather’s bones to the family crypt. When he first developed the problem he saw ghosts just before the seizures began. The family thought he had picked up a ghost in the graveyard and took him to Taoist priests before taking him to a doctor. He had had grand mal seizures for over a year before they found a doctor in Taipei who was able to correctly diagnose and treat the problem. He had missed a year and a half of school with the illness. This was why he was still in junior high instead of high school. It wasn’t until after I had married into the family and had seen the medical records that I knew the name of the illness.

As the Liu girls chattered away, they were constantly eating. They ate fruit and then passed around a bag of beef jerky. Then they broke out the candy. A few minutes later, they all started chewing on watermelon seeds. Liu Yuni said nothing; he just watched them talk while he ate. He did laugh at all their jokes. The time passed much more quickly in the back of the truck, and I was so fascinated by the family stories that I even forgot about getting car sick.

Soon we arrived at a strip of sea coast with hundreds of cars parked along both sides of the highway. We, too, found a place to park. Then we unloaded the hampers of picnic food and trudged a half mile or so down the road to a small area of sandy beach. There were rock formations beyond the sand, and large numbers of surf fishermen had their poles stuck into holes in the rock. They were catching plenty of fish. Soon a short woman and several young girls came running over to greet us. We had met the elder sister, Liu Hsiuyueh. She had brought several folding chairs and had staked out a spot for us on the sand. There was a toddler asleep on her blanket near the chairs. When asked about her husband, she pointed out to the furthermost point on the rocks where the hardiest people were fishing.

When the hampers of food were set down, everyone grabbed their favorite food and ran off to play. Some of the Liu girls went with the nieces to wade in the water. Mrs. Liu sat on the blanket with her eldest daughter and patted the baby’s back. Mr. Liu and his sons went out on the rocks to watch the fishermen. I started to follow them out onto the rocks, but I did not have the right shoes for rock hopping. So I went back to the blanket and started talking to Liu Yuni’s sisters. Eventually, we all took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and went chasing minnows with the little girls in the shallow water. Even Mrs. Liu joined in the fun. We had a great time.

After the tide turned, the men came back with Eldest Brother-in-law. He had caught a number of fish and was covered in scales from cleaning them. Eldest Sister bagged up the nicest fish for her parents, and then she invited us to her place for dinner. Everyone immediately set to work, and within five minutes all the things were packed and ready to go. We got back into the cars and drove over the mountains for dinner at Elder Sister’s house in Toufen. All the women worked together, and dinner was served in less than an hour after we got into her home. It was amazing how efficient they were. They were all chattering and laughing and working together. After dinner, they all cleaned up together. Then some of the girls stayed at their sister’s place for the night, while the rest of us went back to Chung-li. After dropping off his parents and siblings, Liu Yuni ran me home. I got back to Taipei after midnight. It had been an exhausting, but very interesting day. I really liked Liu Yuni’s sisters and mother.

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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tales of the Black Ox Prince and the Wandering Maiden (2)

The following Monday, I started back with my translation group at the church publishing company. It was hard to sit still and correct copy after two whole months of almost constant hard labor. But it was nice to be able to sleep in a little later and not have to run for the bus. I could hardly wait for the next day when Liu Yuni would be in town and would meet with General Manager. I was really getting impatient with all these Chinese rules about relationships.

The next day I was called into General Manager’s office not long before quitting time. Liu Yuni was sitting in a chair in the waiting room. He looked a little green around the gills. I do not know what kind of grilling General Manager had subjected him to. I went in and General Manager said, “I knew I should have made you come home when the foreman stopped going up the mountain every day. You know this boy comes from a poor family. Your grandfather is a millionaire. His parents are uneducated, and your father is a college president. What will they say?” I told him that none of that mattered to Americans. I said that we judged a person by his character and abilities. I was more than a little upset. General Manger looked at me and then began intoning a 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.” With that he seemed to have made a decision. He had me call in Liu Yuni.

The two of us stood at attention before General Manger’s desk, not quite knowing what to expect. He shut his eyes and rubbed his face. Then he said, “It is very difficult for couples of different races and cultures. And you come from completely different backgrounds. But nothing is settled yet. Okay. You can date, but don’t tell anyone else. You are only allowed to go out for two meals per month. Take things slowly. Don’t talk about marriage until both families agree and Liu Yuni has finished his schooling and military service.” With that he waved us out with a flick of his hand, and he went back to his paperwork. Liu Yuni rushed off to his first day of English class, and I went home for dinner. (We had not mentioned to General Manager that the foreman had asked me to give Liu Yuni English lessons. We figured the less said, the better.)

That night we had our first English lesson. It was almost the end of the relationship. The teacher had given a pop quiz the first day of class to determine the class’s level of ability. Liu Yuni scored a negative five out of one hundred. He couldn’t even remember his English name. At the time, his name was Stephen. The “ph” as an “f” was very hard for him to remember. He decided there was no hope for him with an American girlfriend. I suggested that he change his English name. He selected “Joshua” because it sounds like the Chinese word for “toothbrush.” It was also easier to spell phonetically. So the first crisis in the relationship was averted. We continued meeting every Tuesday and Thursday night for English lessons. I have to say that the English teaching in Taiwan’s country schools in the 1970s was appalling. Liu Yuni did not even know that “is,” “are,” and “am” were forms of the same word. He tried to memorize each one individually. I certainly had my work cut out for me as an English teacher.

Finally, we set the time for our first “date.” We were told we could go out for two meals per month. Nothing was said about how long it should or should not take us to get to those meals. So one Sunday afternoon at the end of September, we went for a motorcycle ride from the center of Taipei, up Yangming Mountain, out to the coast at Yehliu, and finally wound up at a bread shop where we had a sandwich snack for our dinner. It was great fun. Our round-trip ride was 150 kilometers. My rear was numb for a whole twenty-four hours. And as we rode, we talked and talked about our families, our schooling, our dreams, and our plans. Every other week from that day onward, we went on a long motorcycle ride that culminated in a meal some place. We followed General Manager’s instructions to the letter, but certainly not in spirit. And as we rode and talked, we got to know each other very well.

By the time of Chinese New Year in February, 1986, Liu Yuni felt we were ready for the next step: taking me home to meet his parents. And that is a topic for a whole ‘nother post.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tales of the Black Ox Prince and the Wandering Maiden (1)

Once upon a time in a land far away lived a fair maiden with snow-white skin and mouse-brown hair. She lit her lamp and wandered the world looking for a man worthy of her hand in marriage. She tried the men in Latin America, but they partied too hard and liked to fight (with her). She tried the men in Germany, but they were too cold and rigid. Finally, she landed on the isle of Formosa where she stayed and worked awhile. And there she met the Black Ox Prince...

Starting to clear the barbecue and game field.

Working after dinner to clear the barbecue and game field:

Liu Yuni (far left) can lift the hoe all the way over his head.

Lazy boy/large eater (center) can't even get his hoe up above his knee.

Wandering maiden looks at lazy boy in disgust.

Foreman's children also help clear the land. (Click to enlarge for a comparison of the physiques on the various men... need I say more?)

Barbecue time. Note the women tending the fires and the wandering maiden on her swing.

Many of the universities went back into session during the last week of August. One exception was National Taiwan Institute of Technology (now National Taiwan University of Technology). Liu Yuni was a student at this school, and because the university was geared towards technology, many students did summer internships. Classes didn’t begin until mid-September at that school. Liu Yuni got a group of his close school friends to come up for the last three weeks of summer to do the final clearing of brush before the surveyors went in. I continued to go up every day to cook and work. The foreman just gave Liu Yuni money for groceries and stopped going to the property. I rode the bus from Taipei every morning at 6 am and took the last bus home every evening at 7 pm.

On the third day of this arrangement, as I was walking into the property from the bus stop, I heard the sound of a quacking duck (Vespa horns are really worthless). Liu Yuni came from the market in the opposite direction with two loaves of bread and a jug of milk on his floor board. He asked me if I wanted a ride. Since I still had another twenty minutes of walking ahead of me, I hopped on, and we putted off to the property. The other men were just finishing breakfast, and they were eating the last of a loaf of bread. I asked why Liu Yuni had gone out for bread since they still had some. He replied that the bread was now gone, and they usually had peanut butter sandwiches and milk for a bed-time snack. That seemed reasonable, so I began getting ready for my day. Things went pretty much as usual; I worked until 11, made lunch, went back to work in the afternoon until 5, made dinner, and then started out for the bus home.

The next morning, as I was walking in from the bus, Liu Yuni was there again on his motorcycle with another two loaves of bread. He gave me another ride in. The other men had already finished eating, and I didn’t see any bread in the kitchen, so I assumed they had had a large midnight snack. I put extra rice in the cooker for lunch and dinner, thinking I was not giving them enough to eat. I also added extra meat to both lunch and dinner. They all ate until they were stuffed.

The following day, I again heard the duck-quack horn and was picked up by Liu Yuni with two more loaves of bread. I was slightly suspicious, but I didn’t say anything. That day when I was making lunch, I searched all the bins and boxes in the kitchen. I found four moldy loaves of bread in a box under a pile of cooking implements. So they weren’t eating sandwiches all night. That set me to thinking. And I formulated a plan. The next morning when Liu Yuni came with yet more bread to pick me up, I asked him what he was looking for in a girlfriend. He said, “Someone like you,” and proceeded to get so embarrassed that he almost steered us off the road into a grove of bamboo. That day at lunch, I pulled out the moldy loaves of bread, and told him that I didn’t mind getting rides to and from the bus station, but he didn’t need to waste money buying unwanted loaves of bread. His friends all had a good laugh. From then on, I cut six miles walking off my days. I knew that Chinese girls were not supposed to make the first move in a relationship, so I decided to see what he would do next.

For another week, he ferried me to and from the bus station, but he said nothing more about why he was doing so. It came down to the last week of summer work, and then I would need to go back to my translation group in Taipei. And still Liu Yuni said nothing. We had three days left; Andrew Marvell’s words were twisting themselves in my dreams: “If we had world enough and time, / This coyness Yuni were no crime…” I knew I had to nudge things along, but what was a girl to do?

His friends were also up to something. They kept developing sudden urges to run back as a group to the cabin to “use the restroom”, leaving the two of us alone together. Finally, as we were digging bamboo shoots for the soup that evening, and all his friends had abandoned us, I asked Liu Yuni what his parents would think if he had an American girlfriend. He blushed bright red under his dark tan and said, “If they don’t agree to our getting married, we’ll just elope!” I had to bite my cheeks to keep from laughing. I said, “Oh, but we haven’t even gone on a date. Isn’t it a bit early to talk about eloping?” Since I had had the bad experience with that other potential suitor whose mother had forced him to look elsewhere, I insisted that Liu Yuni at least show my picture to his parents before we took things any further, especially since he was already thinking of eloping.

The next morning he told me that he had ridden home after depositing me at the bus station. His mother had said, “Your horoscope says you will marry a girl from far away. I thought you would marry someone from down South, from Kaohsiung. Aren’t there enough girls in Taiwan for you to find someone? Why do you have to go out with a girl from America?” But because the horoscope said he was going to marry someone from far away and because his father was just recovering from a business failure, his parents did not object to our dating. Liu Yuni said the next step was for him to talk to General Manager and ask for permission to court me. I thought this was a little much, but he said that since I didn’t have any male relatives here in Taiwan, and because his English wasn’t good enough to speak with my father over the phone, he was going to speak with General Manager, who stood in loco parentis for me.

The foreman came up on the last night of summer and brought delicious boxed dinners from a nearby restaurant. He asked all the men in this last group of workers about their school and their career plans. When he learned that Liu Yuni should have graduated the preceding June, but had failed two sections of English and was staying in school for an extra year to complete those required units, the foreman asked me if there was a way I could give English lessons. I was quite happy to oblige. The foreman offered Liu Yuni a job living on the property as a caretaker five nights a week. Liu Yuni had English class at school every Tuesday and Thursday evening, and then I would tutor him in English at a coffee shop near my apartment after his classes were out. Of course, the foreman knew nothing about our plans to start dating; he was just trying to help a promising young talent in construction arts. We did not feel the need to enlighten him.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In Memoriam: 4 June 1989

The following is a poem translated from the Chinese and published in June Fourth Movement Twentieth Anniversary Memorial Booklet (edited by Brian Hansen & Jiang Pinchao, translated by Teresa Zimmerman-Liu). The Chinese original is found in the book June Fourth Poems, edited by Jiang Pinchao. It was written on June 6, 1989, by students who had escaped from Tiananmen Square on the night of June 4, 1989.

By Lian Yang & Cheng Gu

You are dead, but a short time ago you
walked on the plaza under blue sky and
mothers pushing strollers called out to you,
saying how tall you had grown. You were watching
kites floating and dancing in the spring sky.
You are dead, but not long ago, we said
“Let’s go to the plaza to speak,” and with many others
we went to the woods beside the subway.
Not long ago, we shared a bowl of soup
and made instant noodles that we ate slowly.
Then in the rain, holding umbrellas and lanterns,
we went from tent to tent
but now you are dead.

The spotlight illuminated us suddenly,
pinning you to the brick pavement.
Your legs were broken, you crawled,
screaming as you were crushed beneath the steel tank treads.
I cannot forget the instant the guns sounded,
you looked up in surprise and your clapping hands
covered your chest as you all spurted blood.
You had been sitting on the ground
when they began firing guns at your faces.
Then the tanks rolled over your bodies and
your brains were splattered on the ground.
Bullets chased you, death-carts and helicopters chased you,
gasoline spurting flame-throwers chased you.
Your skin turned black and split open as it burned,
the wounded and the dead were burned together.
You are dead, and I cannot forget.

You were just a little younger than I,
you laughed like little children, I cannot forget you.
They killed you without warning,
just because you stood beside the road.
You saw the smoking gun muzzles, so your eyes became criminal.
You said, “Don’t kill anyone,” so your mouths became criminal.
You came out of your houses
to save bleeding persons, so your deeds became criminal.
Volley after volley of bullets
pounded your bodies into bloody masses.
The murderers kept shouting and shooting,
They fired on old people, who protected you in the streets.
They killed you, and they want to kill your classmates, siblings, and parents--
everyone who knew and loved you.
They want to kill all memories so
they cover your bodies with stinking lies.
They are corpse-eating maggots.
They thought by turning you into smoke
and washing away the blood, you would be gone forever,
forever unable to open your mouths,
unable to speak the terrible wrongs you suffered.
With you dead, they can say, “We are victorious.”
They think people can be exterminated, slaughtered,
they think death can hide their life of crime.
We are living and we stand beside you.
They might kill us too, but they do not know
that we already died in our homes in China
the moment the guns sounded on the plaza.
We give our hearts to you, the dead,
so you can live again in us.
We want to lift our hands as you did
to complete your unaccomplished mission
Blood for blood, fire for fire.

June 6, 1989