Sunday, November 29, 2009

Photo Collage: Four Generations on a Road Trip

When the twins were three months old, we got an invitation to bring them to my Grammie Zimmerman's 80th birthday party at the end of August. My parents-in-law and Yuni's grandmother Chu also came along for the ride. We visited family all over the US, including Cousin Brian and Cousin Jill who were living in northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. I got lazy this weekend with too much holiday and no real homework, and I did not write the post I had been planning. There are tons of pictures from the trip, so enjoy the preview!

Four generations of Zimmerman descendants

Truth and Love with the Zimmerman cousins

At the US Capitol

At the Ryder summer place on Camano Island

At Carnation Farms in Washington State

Cousin Jill and Cousin Amy with the twins

With Cousin Brian's family in Dulles Airport

At the hotel in Bellevue, WA the first night in the US. My dad is so proud to be a grandpa!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sad News about Some Interpretation Clients

On November 2, 3, and 4, I helped China Aid Association in my capacity as a free-lance Chinese-English translator/interpreter. They had brought a group of six human rights lawyers from China to testify before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The lawyers then flew to California to attend a symposium on stopping religious violence at Pepperdine University. They also had meetings with Pepperdine faculty and gave a presentation to the students at Pepperdine Law School. I was one of the interpreters for those functions. On their way out of town several of the lawyers, including Jiang Tianyong (see below), came to Cal State Long Beach and spoke with one of our International Studies classes about internet freedom, human rights issues, and democracy in China.

These lawyers all said that China has great laws on paper, but the laws are not enforced in favor of the people. The lawyers work to ensure that members of any religion or people in freedom of speech cases have legal representation. The lawyers themselves pay a big price to to this. Jiang Tianyong is a Christian; he has defended many Christians in house churches. He also helped defend the so-called "Living Buddha" in Sichuan last year, and he frequently takes on Falun Gong cases because the government is so anti-Falun Gong that almost no lawyers will defend the accused in such cases. The lawyers take these cases because they believe that the only hope for China is adherence to "rule of law."

The rest of this post is copied from the China Aid website. If you go to the website at, you will see another article about other lawyers from the group who were interrogated and placed under surveillance. You can also access the audio files of the testimony before the Human Rights Commisson.

Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong and one of my interpretation clients.

Chinese Human Rights Attorney Jiang Tianyong Arrested and His Wife Beaten in Front of Their Daughter

Attorney Jiang Tianyong recently returned from a tour in the US exposing the abusive treatment of human rights lawyers in China.

Contacts: Annee Kahler, Media CoordinatorTel: (267) 210-8278, or

Jenny McCloy, Director of Advocacy, Washington DCTel: (202) 213-0506, or Jenny@ChinaAid.orgWebsite: and
November 19, 2009

BEIJING--At 7:40 AM (Beijing time) on Nov. 19, Jiang Tianyong and his wife attempted to leave their home to take their daughter to school, when they were barred from leaving the apartment building by Public Security Bureau officers assembled at the gate. Before Jiang could speak with them, four officers grabbed him violently and forced him into a police car. A police officer named Wang Tao threw his wife to the ground and began striking her. Jiang's 7-year-old daughter cried helplessly as she watched her father being dragged away to detention by the officers.

Jiang Tianyong was arrested and held in detention at the Yangfangdian PSB office of Haidian District, Beijing for over 13 hours, under the guard of Officers Li Aimin and Wang Tao. He was allowed only one meal during his detention. A dozen human rights lawyers rallied in front of the station to demand Jiang's release and to show support for their colleague. He was released at 9:26 PM (Beijing time) to return home to his family.

Immediately after learning of Jiang's arrest, ChinaAid contacted the US Embassy in Beijing and several U.S. Congressional offices, notifying them of Jiang Tianyong's brutal treatment and detention. A US Embassy official quickly responded and said that the Embassy had called the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and formally registered the U.S. Government's concern and opposition to this action. The embassy further reported the incident to the National Security Council and the State Department, all prior to Jiang's release.

Jiang Tianyong had just returned to Beijing on Tuesday, November 17, after touring the United States for 4 weeks and speaking out on the unjust treatment of human rights lawyers in China. On several occasions, he and the other five Chinese human rights defenders on the tour advised U.S. officials to encourage President Obama to meet with human rights lawyers and speak out on religious freedom while visiting China. Read Jiang Tianyong's Testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Hear his remarks at the National Press Club and at the hearing in Washington, DC.

Fearing the lawyers would become targets upon their return, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission co-chair Frank Wolf of Virginia warned against ill-treatment upon the lawyers' return: "If any of them are arrested or harrassed when they get back, I will do everything I can to just create the biggest problem possible for the Obama adminsitration and for the Chinese government." Yesterday, on November 18, Jiang Tianyong and a fellow legal researcher attempted to arrange a meeting with President Obama before he left China, hoping to follow through with the lawyers' request for US acknowlegement of the current dire situation. After receiving a phone call from the U.S. Embassy, informing him President Obama would not be able to meet with the group of five human rights lawyers who had gathered, 200 police officers immediately pulled up, and interrogated Jiang and one of his colleagues in the hotel for over an hour. They were informed they "were not allowed to meet President Obama" and would "be held until he left" yesterday afternoon.The brutal assault of Jiang Tianyong, his wife, and their daughter is an unjust an inexcusable attack on the rights of peaceful Chinese citizens. Jiang's family now suffers even more from this abuse, as their well-being was taxed after Jiang's license to practice law was revoked and his tenure at the Beijing Global Law Firm was terminated in April of this year. ChinaAid denounces the cruel and inhumane treatment of human rights Attorney Jiang Tianyong. We urge the Chinese authorities to stop their harassment of Attorney Jiang and the other human rights lawyers and their families who have been detained during President Obama's visit.

ChinaAid further calls on the international community to pray for healing from this unjust persecution, in the wake of Jiang's courageous tour in the United States, and to call on American leaders to voice their opposition to human rights abuses in China.

EDITOR'S NOTE OF CORRECTION: In our e-mail to our ChinaAid subscribers sent this morning, we reported that Jiang Tianyong was beaten and then dragged away by four police officers. This information was taken from our Chinese media contact in Beijing who misinterpreted the events. Jiang Tianyong was violently seized and forced into a police car, but was not beaten. His wife was beaten by Officer Wang Tao in front of their 7-year-old daughter. We apologize for the mis-report, and will continue to offer breaking news of the events as they transform.

Raise your concerns on Jiang's behalf to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.;
Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong
3505 International Place, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: (202) 495-2000Fax: (202) 588-9760
Chinese Embassy Press Secretary Baodong, Tel: 202-495-2218

NOTE: If you are a citizen of another country, please click here to find the contact information of the Chinese embassy in your own nation
ChinaAid grants permission to reproduce photos and/or information for non-fundraising purposes, with the provision that is credited. Please contact: with questions or requests for further information.

Green Shoots of Democracy

Some readers may remember that when I first arrived in Taiwan, it was under martial law. The government was quite wary about foreigners who disappeared in mainland China for a week, and at one point my friends from church had to pull strings and get high-ranking government officials, who were also church members, to vouch for me when I got back from my Bible smuggling forays. In 1987, Chiang Kai-shek’s son and the president of Taiwan at that time declared an end to martial law. Ordinary people could visit relatives in mainland China by way of a third country, and political parties could form. Local elections began to be freer. Members of non-Kuomintang political parties could run as “non-party” candidates in municipal and county elections.

Just before the twins were born, Chiang Chin-kuo passed away from a heart attack. His successor was a native-born Taiwanese (with Fukienese Hakka roots) named Lee Teng-hui. President Lee continued his predecessor’s policies of loosening the KMT’s political control on the island, and that spring, about the time the kids were born, the first semi-free elections were held.

During my early years, when I was still going to school, I had been shocked at the lack of political freedoms in the supposedly “free, democratic” Republic of China. Friends in the States had warned me not to talk politics with people in Taiwan, as it could be dangerous. After a few strange arguments with roommates during my first year, I had taken their advice. Once, Teacher had explained to us that the KMT lost the mainland, in part, because peasants were not ready for democratic rule. When they arrived in Taiwan, they decided to do things differently. First, they built up the economy and the standard of living so that the populace would have time to thoughtfully consider political questions. Next, they focused on education. The KMT believed that the high rates of illiteracy in the mainland had contributed to their downfall. They did not open up elections until even the remotest mountain villages had electricity, running water, daily mail deliveries, and television broadcasts. They also brought the literacy rate among the younger generation up to almost 90% and waited for these people to attain their majority before opening up the elections. Of course, prior to the competitive elections, there had been elections with choices between KMT candidates. This enabled the entire population to grow accustomed to the idea of choosing the best person for the job.

I soon discovered the wisdom behind these measures.

Not long after I married into the Liu family, it was electioneering time. The government limited the time for campaigning, and I truly believe this was wise. Since a large number of elderly people in Taiwan were illiterate, each candidate was given a number. The parties were color-coded with KMT candidates having blue and red banners, and other candidates having white with a colored border. The candidates would affix loudspeakers on the cabs of little pickup trucks to which they attached large banners in the back with the pictures of the candidates and their colored numbers. These trucks would roam the cities blaring music and political messages. Hordes of political helpers would go door to door canvassing for the candidates. Each house would be given towels, soaps, or other small gifts wrapped in the appropriate colors with the numbers on top. Frequently an envelope of money was enclosed inside the gift. The candidates held rallies in vacant lots with loudspeakers, singers, lion dancers, and other entertainment to attract the crowds to listen to the candidate speak. Most of the speeches that I heard in the first election were pretty much the same: “Please, please vote for me. I am a good person. Thank you all for your support.” The streets were in constant chaos, and when the candidates had popular singers performing for them, all traffic had to find another route.

My father-in-law was very serious about voting in this first election with real choices. He accepted all gifts and then figured out how many votes the family had. One candidate who was running for a seat on the county council had the last name of Liu. Pa decided that all the family’s votes would go to him even though he had not given much in the way of money. For the other positions, he apportioned out the votes based on the value of gifts. Some got two votes, some three, some only got one.

His schemes lasted exactly as long as it took for his educated children to tell him that they were not going to have any part of them. Then the whole family sat down and talked about democracy and policy and what to look for in elected officials. Since my family in America had a long history in politics and I had even worked as an intern and assistant in a US Senator’s office, I was called in to give the American perspective on things. The kids drilled into their parents that they needed to follow the news and to be wary of corruption. The Liu children felt that no one should vote for any candidate who had given money. This concept was hard for the parents to accept at first. I do not know who each of the family members voted for in those first elections. I know that Pa and Ma did vote for the candidate with the last name of Liu. All the children voted for the people they felt were best qualified for the job.

I do know that since those elections, and even today, Pa has followed political news very closely. He works on campaigns for the candidates he feels are best and has become a very active citizen. He is very happy to have the right to influence his government. At first, some of the family members were ashamed of the way members of the Taiwanese parliament fought with each other in the chambers. They thought that I must be laughing at their country, since we were beyond that in America. I did tell them that things like that had happened in American history, that American politicians had even dueled to the death over political issues about which they were passionate. I told them that as long as the people were passionate and involved in politics, it would be harder for politicians to get away with graft and corruption. I believe that history in Taiwan has proved the validity of my views. The elections in Taiwan have gotten cleaner and cleaner, and the past president of Taiwan is now sitting in jail for corruption that occurred during his administration. Taiwanese politics really have come a long way in just a short period of time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Life with Babies

Our nuclear family

Two-month old "couch potatoes"

Twins in the stroller out for a walk

On a hike
Now that we had babies, the benefits of a multi-generational household became quickly manifest. The Lius love babies, especially their own. At the end of my forty days, Pa ordered several tables of food and held a feast for the relatives and neighbors. We had three tables inside and two or three out in the alley in front of the house. At the “full month” celebration, they ate chicken and rice wine soup, pork hock and peanut stew (highly recommended for nursing mothers), and hard-boiled eggs dyed red as featured dishes. Of course, there were many other courses, too. Family members, who had not yet given the babies presents, gave red envelopes of money or solid gold baby rings. That feast marked my re-entry into society and the end of my confinement. I had to go back to work the following Monday.

Ma officially retired from construction work to take care of the babies. Since I usually worked in the afternoons and evenings, we worked out a schedule that divided the work. Yuni and I had the babies in our room all night, and I continued caring for them in the morning while Ma did the laundry. I would feed the babies and then put them in the double stroller (a gift from my American family). We would go out for a walk in the cool of the morning. By the end of the walk, the babies were usually ready for a morning nap, so I would clean the house, paying special attention to the floors.

Ma could spend all morning with the laundry. She gossiped with the neighbors who were doing washing on their roofs. She puttered in her rooftop herb and vegetable garden, and she hung all the clothes out to dry on bamboo poles under the eaves and an awning. She usually didn’t come down from doing the laundry until almost 11:00. By that time the babies were awake and hungry. We would each take one and feed her. Then I made lunch for Ma and me while she played with the babies. After lunch Ma and the babies took a nap in Yuntian’s room off the kitchen while I got ready and left for work.

While I was gone, Ma would play with the babies, feed them, give them a bath, and take them out for a walk in the early evening after it started to get cool. Ma and her daughters got dinner for the family. I would grab something at a noodle shop near my school between classes. When Pa and Yuni got home in the evening, they would take the babies while Ma and the girls cleaned up after dinner. Their method of babysitting usually consisted of holding the babies on their laps while they watched their TV shows and talking to the babies during commercials. After the dishes were done, my sisters-in-law would play with the kids. By the time I got home after class, the babies were tired out and ready to go upstairs to bed.

When Ma had first gotten married, Yuni’s grandfather told her that if she wanted smart children, she needed to talk to them from the time they were born. When she was playing with them or doing housework or taking the babies for their walk, Ma kept up a running patter to the kids. She would point out different kinds of birds that they could see lying in the stroller. She would tell them what she was cooking. As she was changing their diapers, she told them how much it cost for a package of diapers and why their parents had to work so hard. She also told them that when they got older they would need to work hard and earn money, too. She would tell them about the formula powder as she prepared their bottles. And she insisted that I keep up a running patter with them in English when I was caring for the kids. Ma and Pa only spoke to the babies in the Hakka dialect. I only spoke to them in English, and Yuni and his siblings only spoke to them in Mandarin Chinese. We were experimenting with a method for producing multi-lingual children that I had read about in a linguistics class at Georgetown. Each adult only speaks one language to the child from birth, and the child begins to associate the language with the adult’s face. Children raised this way learn to talk a little bit more slowly, but they usually become fluent in several languages.

My relatives had sent me numerous books on child-rearing while I was pregnant. I had great plans for how I was going to raise my children. I was not going to give them sugar until they were three years old. I was going to limit their time in front of the television. I was going to read to them every evening. I had so many plans. And all of them, except for reading to the children every day, went out the window as my husband’s family threw themselves exuberantly into loving their grandchildren.

The entire Liu family watched TV for several hours every evening when they got home from work. Since I was out teaching then, the children were included in the nightly TV watching ritual. Fortunately, for all of us, TV transmission was limited to several hours at noon and several hours in the evening. For most of the day, the TV was dark. And then there was the matter of sugar. Pa Liu has a sweet tooth. And he began buying suckers for the girls before they even had teeth. Several times a week, Pa came home with large, hard suckers that they couldn’t choke on. He always bought three: one for each of the girls and one for himself. And they would sit on the couch in the evenings watching TV and sucking on their candy. The only adjustment I was able to make in this matter was to convince him that the girls should not have their candy before they had eaten their regular food.

At first I got mad at these set backs to my grand plans for child-rearing. But upon reflection, I realized that the Lius had managed to raise seven children to adulthood in the face of terrible hardships. All their children were honest, hard-working, and well-adjusted. They were also very smart. If the worst thing I could say about my children was that they had bad teeth because of a doting grandfather, things would be very good for them, indeed. So I just made sure that the girls first had their milk and then later their rice and vegetables before they were given their dessert. And everyone was quite happy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Home from the hospital



My "HOPE" baby, Truth


Dad and daughter

By the end of 30 days, I had gotten pretty good at handling twins. (Notice the leg action involved.)

In Taiwan, and even throughout much of Eastern Asia, women rest for a month or more after giving birth. During this time, they eat special foods, bond with their babies, receive visitors, and are governed by a whole raft of traditions. When we were in school, Teacher had discussed these confinements with us as we had had Chinese friends who had gone into confinement after giving birth. Teacher said that China was a poor agrarian country for most of its history. The average woman did not have access to a nutritious diet or prenatal vitamins during pregnancy. The period of confinement with its requirements for calcium-rich foods gave women a chance to replace the nutrients that had been leached from their bodies during pregnancy. It was also one of the few times women were allowed to rest before old age. Teacher noted that she personally knew women who had not been able to go into confinement due to the wars in China in the first half of the twentieth century. Many of these women had lost their teeth, and a large number had developed joint and bone problems in their thirties. Centuries of tradition taught Chinese women that failing to properly handle the month after pregnancy could cause arthritis and osteoporosis.

I agreed with Teacher’s assessment that the confinement tradition most probably came about due to food shortages. When a woman is in confinement with a new baby, all the friends, relatives, and neighbors come to see the new baby and to give gifts of nutritious foods for the mother. In this way, a family that might not have been able to give its pregnant women the best nutrition due to limited resources had a better chance of replenishing the nutrients leached out during pregnancy with the greater resources of the community at large. Of course, I had been taking horse-sized prenatal vitamins, so I was not sure that this applied to me. I noticed that most of my well-nourished Chinese friends went into their first confinement skinny and came out quite heavy. I was not sure I wanted to follow suit.

The tradition varies slightly from region to region in China. Each region, each family even, has its own special confinement rituals and foods. In general, for 30 to 40 days after a new baby is born, the mother and child stay in a tightly-closed room. No windows are allowed to be open. No fans can blow on them, even in the height of summer. The mother, in particular, wears long-sleeved pajamas. In the summer, the fabric can be light-weight, but the clothes need to be gathered at wrists and ankles, so no air can blow on the woman’s joints. Some traditions say the woman should not even sit up in bed for long periods of time but must lie flat on a board bed to protect her lower back.
Food is brought to her. Most families in Taiwan believe the woman should eat one entire chicken per day. It is served to her in soup. My husband’s Hakka family’s recipe called for chicken and rice wine soup. No water or vegetables could sully the broth. The recipe went pretty much like this: boil together one whole chicken, two bottles of rice wine, and several different herbs from the Chinese apothecary. We had attended several “Full Month” parties when Yuni’s cousins and their babies were allowed to come out of their rooms into society again at the end of confinement. The prime delicacy at those parties is chicken and rice wine soup. I could not stomach the stuff.

Fortunately for me, the doctor told my mother-in-law that I should not have alcohol or my incision might bleed. I was also supposed to drink lots of water and eat vegetables because my intestines had been moved during the operation. We needed to promote intestinal health, or my intestines would stick together and I would need more surgery. So my mother-in-law and I began to negotiate about what I would and would not eat during my confinement. My mother-in-law was all set to serve me a chicken a day in various types of soups. I told her that I would not be able to stomach that much chicken, and that I could eat a variety of calcium-rich foods with the same effect. So we decided that I would have a rotation of chicken and shitake mushroom soup, chicken and ginseng soup with jizi (a Chinese herb), pork bone and seaweed soup, and of course, plenty of melted ice cream. I would also get rice and plates of steamed vegetables because the old wives’ tales said that too much grease gives breast-fed babies the runs.

Next, we began to negotiate about the “lying in bed for a month” part of things. I really did NOT want to do that, and my mother-in-law had a bad knee from a run in with a delivery truck in her early thirties, so she was not keen on carting large bowls of soup up three flights of stairs several times a day. The doctor also told her that I needed to walk around to promote healing of the incision. So we decided that I would run down to the first floor and eat in a draft-free corner of the room. The babies had been born in early spring before it was too hot, so I felt fine about wearing a light jacket or sweat shirt when I came out of my room. I nixed the idea of wearing a turban, although I was told I would suffer from migraines in middle age for it. My in-laws would lose face if I went back to work too early or if I went outside the home. So we agreed that I would have free run of the interior of the house and that I would take frequent naps when feeding the babies had tired me out.

The final item of the confinement was NOT negotiable. Both the doctor and my mother-in-law insisted that I bathe in boiled water for the entire month. The doctor was worried about the incision; my mother-in-law was worried about her traditions. My mother-in-law went to a Chinese apothecary and bought copious supplies of mugwort stalks. I did not just bathe in boiled water; I bathed in brownish boiled mugwort tea. It smelled awful. But this was the price of not being closed up in my bedroom for 40 days. We compromised on the other part of the bathing restrictions. Women are not supposed to wash their hair for the full month, either. I agreed to only wash my hair once on the Sunday afternoon just before I had to return to the hospital for my post-surgical checkup. I would wear a warm sweatsuit and a coat, and one of my sisters-in-law, who had worked in a beauty salon, would wash my hair in the kitchen sink. Then she would immediately blow my hair totally dry.

And on the seventh day, the girls and I were discharged from the hospital. We took the babies home for their month in the bedroom with me. I am glad that I had the month off work. Even though GES did not officially pay me, the owners came with a red envelope containing a gift of a month’s salary. This was a common practice in Taiwanese companies at the time. I continued to receive my salary from the university, but I had to pay Lynne for taking my classes, so I did not make anything there. All my fellow teachers and friends from church in Chungli came to visit. More of Yuni’s myriad relatives came to see the “American babies.” Everyone who visited brought gifts of formula, diapers, foods for me, and sometimes a red envelope of cash and gold baby rings. The neighbors all came bearing gifts, too. Some days I had so many visitors that I actually got tired and would have rather rested more.

The entire family celebrated the babies. Their dad began coaching them on how they were going to compete against each other in the Miss World beauty pageant, one representing Taiwan and the other representing the USA. Their aunts and uncle came up to hold and play with them, whenever they had a chance. Except in the middle of the night or when they had dirty diapers or were screaming with colic, I had almost no chance to hold my own kids. It was really amazing, and I am not quite sure how to describe it. It seemed to me that scores and scores of people were in my social circle, and all of them were celebrating and actively participating in welcoming, blessing, and nurturing these babies. And it was not because the babies were half American; this was the way that rural Chinese culture celebrates the continuance of life and the next generation. I suspect this attitude stems from the people's centuries of ancestor worship and their focus on family and clan. A large part of their social fabric lies in continuing the family line and in ensuring the quality of the next generation. I think this is why Asians around the world put such an emphasis on educating and nurturing their children. As a new mother of twins, I was at the center of their celebration of life. It was overwhelming but also quite gratifying. I was so glad that my children were the recipients of such love and care.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Mom, We Have Babies!"

The twins by the nursery window

Feeding time in our "double" room

Twin "A"--Eternal Truth

Twin "B"--Eternal Love

Babies in the feeding cart like loaves of bread at a bakery

The result of melted ice cream: lots and lots of milk!

Towards the end of my pregnancy, my stomach was growing visibly from morning to evening. The twins were doing very well. The only problem was that they were so big the twin across the bottom in a breech position had no room to turn around. The doctor did a number of ultrasounds and decided that as soon as they were big enough to survive outside an incubator, he would do a C-section. He thought we could have them three weeks early, but one twin was just a little bit too small, so we waited another week. Since I was not supposed to go into natural labor for fear of a medical emergency, I stopped teaching classes and began to lie around the house. My friend Lynne from my first year in Taiwan was back in the country attending a church training. She agreed to take my university classes for me every Monday during my maternity leave. Her task was to help the students with their semester projects. She did quite a good job of that!

Finally, the day came. It turned out to be an auspicious day as well, and many Chinese, who now use modern technology to give their babies the best horoscopes possible, had scheduled C-sections at the hospital for that day, too. Since we were not in it for the horoscopes, we did not have to wait for the midday lucky time zone. We were the first surgery of the day. Yuni, Ma and I went to the hospital the night before to have all the surgical prep done. We asked for a double room, and the hospital found us an interior room without windows. It was private and a little larger than usual, but because there were no windows, they charged us the cheaper double-bed rate. In addition to my hospital bed, it had two couch-like daybeds for Yuni and Ma to sleep on. We had our own little hospital slumber party.

Bright and early the next morning, the nurse came to take me down to surgery. The anesthesiologist had visited the night before, and all things were ready downstairs. I was given the option of bikini cut or bisecting my gut. I went for the smaller incision. I was conscious during the entire procedure, as I opted just to have the epidural and NOT get total anesthesia for the end after the babies were out. When the doctor got through all the layers of tissue, mystery baby on the bottom kicked a foot out. The doctor pulled, and out popped a girl. She began crying immediately. The nurse sponged her off and walked up past the big sheet to show me (by spreading the legs) that I had just had a girl. Then she put the naked baby into a portable double incubator. The doctor and his assistant now began pushing on my upper abdomen to get the other baby out. We knew that she was a girl, too. The birth certificates place the births at just a minute apart; I say that it was the longest minute in the history of the human race. Both doctors kept pushing and pushing to inch this larger baby down to where they could pull her out. I didn’t feel pain because of the epidural, but it was definitely NOT a comfortable sensation. Finally, one doctor switched from pushing to pulling, and they managed to work the baby out. She was asleep. They swatted her to get her crying. She mewled twice and went back to sleep. When the nurse brought her to see me, she half opened an eye and then went to sleep again. The nurse put her into the double incubator with her sister and wheeled them both out to meet Grandma and Daddy. Ma told me that when they saw the babies, the girls had linked arms in the incubator.

After the doctor stitched me up, I spent some time in the recovery room, and then I went back up to my hospital room. Due to the problems with clean water, all C-section mothers were kept in the hospital for a week until the incisions had grown together enough that no infection was likely. A few hours after the operation, I startled everyone by walking the halls and going downstairs to see the babies in the nursery. The twins were quite the celebrities in the hospital. For one thing, they were bald, but all the full-blood Chinese babies had been born with shocks of black hair. For another thing, they were definitely white compared to the rest of the nursery’s inhabitants. All the visitors to the hospital wanted to see the American twins, so their beds were placed quite close to the windows. Twin A cried a lot, and the nurses took turns walking her and holding her and talking to her. She responded to the attention like a born movie star. Twin B was much more business-like about the process of living. She ate lots and then slept and then ate some more.

The next order of business was for Yuni to call my parents and tell them that mother and babies were safe. We spent quite a bit of time rehearsing the English before he went off to find an international pay phone. We settled on a simple script: “Mom (or Dad), we have babies.” And we practiced that plural “s” until the enunciation was clear. Then we went on with the important statistics: “Two girls, six pounds each, Teresa and babies are good.” It only took him thirty minutes of constant practice before he felt confident about making his first transpacific phone call by himself. It was a momentous occasion all around. And of course, my parents were thrilled to have become grandparents twice over.

I was allowed to eat real food by noon, and by the evening feeding, I tried to breast feed the twins. They wound up getting about half mother’s milk and half formula. Several times a day, the nurses would wheel the carts of tightly swaddled babies up to the maternity ward so that the mothers could feed their own babies. They had special coaches for mothers who wanted to breastfeed, and the nurses even made sure we knew how to safely bathe the babies and change their diapers before they would clear us for discharge. Both kids were slightly jaundiced, which is apparently very common in Asia. While my incision was healing, the babies basked under sun lamps in the nursery for several hours a day until their bilirubin counts went down.

By the second day, my visitors started pouring in. Friends from church and Liu family relatives all came bearing gifts of food for me and diapers or formula for the kids. A few of my American friends from church came with ice cream, and my mother-in-law and I began the first of many negotiations about cross-cultural motherhood and child-rearing. Chinese mothers spend the month after childbirth resting in bed with the baby. They only eat chicken and wine soup. They are not allowed to drink water or eat vegetables for fear the baby will develop colic or diarrhea. The mothers are not allowed to wash their hair for a month, they can only bathe in water boiled with mugwort, and they must wear long-johns and a turban to be sure they do not catch a chill. They are not allowed to eat or touch anything cold because it is believed that cold water or cold foods during the month after child-birth will give the mother arthritis in middle-age. But my friends had brought me mint chocolate chip ice cream, my favorite, and I really wanted it. Finally, we asked the nurse. Due to the surgery, the doctor had already nixed the chicken and wine soup routine. I was to drink plenty of water and NO alcohol for three weeks. The nurse said I could have ice cream, but she suggested I let it melt and warm up to room temperature to appease my mother-in-law’s sensibilities. So I had a room temperature mint chocolate chip milk shake, and within fifteen minutes I had so much milk that the nurse had to bring both babies for an extra feeding. And that is how the American magic of melted, room-temperature ice cream was added to the Liu family’s menu of best foods for nursing mothers.