Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Large Family Has Too Many Stories (1) 大家庭的故事太多了

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Ma presided over her daughters and daughters-in-law. As the eldest daughter-in-law, I was her chief assistant. A big concern was matrimony. First, there was the worry about what would happen if Eldest Sister’s fifth child was not a boy. Our prayers were answered, which was a good thing because I don’t think anyone could have done anything otherwise. Then, one of the unmarried sisters had an inappropriate boyfriend. Ma became very distressed and did everything in her power to find a proper match.

At this time, Pa was working with two young men who had had their own contracting company. They had many contacts and lots of energy, but they didn’t know too much about bidding or doing skilled construction labor. So Pa and his family joined forces with these two young men. It was a win-win situation. Ma was eager for this alliance to continue, and she felt the best thing to do would be to marry the elder brother to one of her three unmarried daughters. Since one daughter was about to be ruined with a bad boyfriend, Ma persuaded Pa that they should go to work cajoling her into cementing the family fortunes.

Every time the poor woman came home, the two brothers would be invited to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at our house. And after they had finally gone home, Ma would regale her daughters on the benefits of building alliances through marriage. Then she would go into filial duty to one’s parents. And she would finish off with a good dose of shame about the inappropriateness of the boyfriend. Fortunately, my Hakka was not so good, so all I had to do was smile and nod and then excuse myself. I did not really have any heart for this kind of pressuring.

In the end, that daughter moved out for awhile and rarely came home. Ma was left without a prospect for her matchmaking. Another one of the sisters who was quite obedient and docile had taken all the rhetoric to heart and decided to marry the man. She was working her way through night high school, but to cement her father’s business alliance, she got married before she was finished. Her wedding was about two weeks before Peace was born. Because I was pregnant, I was only allowed to attend the feast and to sit outside under the awning. I was not allowed into the house except for to use the bathroom. Yuni and the twins were allowed to run all over.

Not long after the marriage, the younger brother joined a gang and began using drugs. My sister-in-law and her husband worked long and hard, but the mother-in-law took their hard-earned money and slipped it to her younger son whenever she got the chance. By this time he was an addict, so he spent it on drugs and frequently wound up in jail. My sister-in-law and her husband argued and argued with his mother, but she refused to apply tough love. In the end, it created many problems in their marriage, and the great business alliance was not so great after all.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Three Taels of Gold

The family when Peace is a week old.

Peace in the hospital.

Truth feeding Peace.

Peace at six months.

And so the days passed in caring for the twins, teaching English, helping my mother-in-law, and waiting for the baby to grow. We had an ultrasound and knew it was going to be another girl. I was not bothered by this. It seemed to make life easier since the babies were so close together (one minute and then fourteen months apart). Of course, this did not bode well for the Liu family’s dynastic aspirations. They needed a grandson. My mother-in-law earnestly told me that they needed me to bear a son. They now knew that the gender of the baby was determined by the father, so no one was blaming me, but I would need to try again in a few years after taking some herbal concoctions to help make my body more alkaline. According to the Hakka old wives’ tales, if the wife is alkaline and the husband is acidic, they will produce many males. Because I had grown up in meat-eating America, my body was far too acidic for having sons in Taiwan. Because it was so important that I have a son, they wanted me to do my best to have this child by natural child birth instead of c-section. I discussed this with my obstetrician. He said that if it were anyone else, he would not allow it. My stomach muscles had not grown back fully after the twins, and he did not think I would be able to have the baby naturally. But he trusted me to follow his instructions and to know when I needed to get to the hospital if it was turning into a medical emergency. The biggest thing I had to watch out for was a reddening of the scar from having the twins and sharp sticking pains along the length of the scar. He monitored my progress carefully, and we headed for the due date.

Eldest Sister was also pregnant with her fifth child. Our due dates were almost the same. Mine was slightly before hers, but I had never had a child naturally, and she had already had four. Her baby was finally a boy. The entire family was rejoicing over her good fortune because her husband had been threatening to replace her if she failed to bear him a son.

I kept teaching right up until my due date because I wanted as much exercise as possible to help with the birth. And right on my due date both Eldest Sister and I began to have contractions. She had her baby in a matter of hours, but my baby just would not come. For five days, I had on-again, off-again contractions, but they never got stronger or harder. Finally, in the middle of the night on the day before my own birthday, the incision began to get red and hurt tremendously. I told Yuni, but he felt my stomach and said it wasn’t time. He rolled over and went back to sleep. I was in so much pain I was moaning, and this woke up my in-laws. They insisted that Yuni take me to the hospital, so we dashed off in the wee hours of the morning. At the hospital, they put me on a monitor and said that the baby was distressed. They also began prepping me for surgery while we waited for the doctor to get out of another emergency c-section. He came and was very curt with Yuni. He told him that if he wanted more babies, he needed to protect his wife and this one. He said that as long as I rested for 5 years before getting pregnant again, I could have another pregnancy even after two c-sections. So I was trundled into the operating room.

My file had not yet arrived when the anesthesiologist came in. I told him that I had drug sensitivities which the head of the anesthesiology department had checked out. I begged him to wait for my file. He said that I was his fifth surgery of the night, and he knew what he was doing. He gave me the shot and began chatting with the nurses. I kept watching my heart rate on the monitor because I have an irregular heart beat that is worsened by certain medications. My heart rate went way up and the irregular beats were coming two and three in a row. I knew that this was a dangerous pattern, but I had an oxygen mask on my face, and I was tied to the table. The nurse and anesthesiologist were chatting and not paying any attention to the monitors. I began thrashing my head back and forth to get their attention. A nurse finally came over and asked if I needed to vomit. I said: “Look at my heart rate!” The nurse looked up, yelped, and grabbed the anesthesiologist from his conversation with the other nurse. At that moment, my file arrived, and he was able to see the error of his ways. Unfortunately, the only thing he could do was to give me the antidote to the wrong medication that he had given me, but he couldn’t give me the right stuff.

The surgeon came in and began work removing the baby. Her head was so big that it didn’t fit any of the clamps. They had to stretch my stomach wide to pull her out. Then it took forever for them to get her breathing. Finally, they brought her over and showed her to me. The doctor kept me open while helping revive the baby. Then he came up by my head and begged me to have my tubes tied. He said that the baby and I had almost died. He told me that he could do a reversible tubal ligation that would keep me from getting pregnant for five years. Then if the Lius still wanted me to have a son, we could cut through the ties, and I could get pregnant again. The proceedings that night had scared me sufficiently that I was more than happy to sign for the tubal ligation. Since we did not have a son, Yuni had to agree to the procedure. The nurse took the form out, and we waited. Then the nurse came back in and called the doctor to the door. The doctor left my vision for five minutes or more. I think he may have stepped out of the operating room because I did not hear what they were saying.

When the doctor came back, he said a little too brightly, “Well, we have that settled.” He tied off the tubes, and then he said to me in English, “Now we have to pack your uterus because you won’t be using it for many years.” He began working down low in the center of my abdomen. After the baby was out, the anesthesiologist had asked me if I wanted a general anesthetic for the rest of the operation. I had refused, and he had left to go off duty. By this time, then, after the antidote shot, the anesthesia from the epidural was wearing off. I began to have quite a bit of feeling. The doctor worked for quite some time. I kept breathing deeply and silently praying that I would not move and wreck things. Finally, I began chatting with him, asking him how much longer it would take, how many layers he had to sew up, etc. He told the nurses that this was the difference between American patients and Chinese patients. The Americans were proactive about their health. After what felt like hours of battling against the pain, the surgeon left. The nurses were short and small; they didn’t know how they were going to get me onto the gurney to wheel me into the recovery room. I said, “That’s okay. The anesthesia wore off a long time ago.” I hitched my rear up and stretched a leg out onto the gurney. Both nurses gasped. I told them that American patients were not really that interested in being proactive, but talking to the doctor had distracted me from the pain. They helped me the rest of the way onto the gurney and got me into the recovery room.

And then the pain set in. For the next 36 hours, I was in ever-intensifying pain. My baby was cute. She could smile before she was 24 hours old. Even though she had been a blue baby, she scored a 10 on the APGAR test. Feeding her was a joy, but the rest of the time was sheer torture. Taiwanese hospitals did not allow morphine or other narcotics, and I get violently sick from Demoral, the only pain drug they could offer me. Finally, the doctor prescribed Valium to help me sleep. It didn’t really work. I just breathed and embraced the pain. Eventually, it began to subside.

Something went horribly wrong during that surgery. Ever since then I have had all kinds of problems with my female health. But I have to say that the baby I bore was and is magnificent. The grandparents had the twins, so in some ways she was my firstborn. She was the first one that I got to raise more or less my way. She never really slept, not even as a newborn. She wound up with some slight learning disabilities due to her birth trauma, probably, but she has worked very hard and has pretty much overcome them all. I am so glad I did not take the advice to have an abortion, and I truly believe she is worth every bit of pain that I had bearing her. I guess the pain from that one birth made up for the painless and easy birth of the twins. I certainly had enough pain for three children in that botched surgery. I named her Yung-an, which means Eternal Peace, but the character that I used for peace can also mean rest and safety. I was so grateful that we both came through all right, and we were at peace and safe. The name is like a boy’s name, but it was too meaningful for me to care about trivial things like that.

We went home, and I began my confinement. I got much more rest this time around because the family took the twins downstairs and played with them all day, so Peace and I stayed upstairs resting and relaxing. My mom came from America and would come up and talk to me, and I did get a few visitors, but many times the visitors didn’t make it upstairs because the twins’ antics downstairs were so entertaining. I now had “San Qian Jin” or three thousand pieces of gold, which is a polite way to say three daughters. The third daughter is not so remarked upon or celebrated in Chinese households. But to me, all my daughters are worth more than their weight in gold.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year

The Chinese Zodiac

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year. 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. The picture above shows all the signs of the zodiac and the years associated with them. There are 12 signs of the zodiac, and they run in a cycle of 60 years because each year is also affiliated with one of the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, or water. The element associated with the year slightly changes the horoscope characteristics of persons born in that year.

There is a story about how the order of the animals was determined: The Buddha decided to preach to all sentient beings and called the animals to come listen to him. He provided some snacks to ensure that they came. The rat smelled the snacks and ran the fastest, so the rat is the first in the Chinese zodiac. The pig wanted to get there faster, but it was too clumsy and heavy, so it came last after all the animals. The cat was too disdainful. It turned up its nose at the snack, swished its tail, and went the other way, so there is no cat in the Chinese zodiac.

I have read that the theory of karma states that people are born at the exact time and hour to give them the horoscope that best matches their karma for this life. Perhaps this is why the Buddha is involved in the zodiac story.

As I said, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. Here is a picture of a pretty tiger:

A good website to check out Chinese horoscopes is
 This is some of its general information about people born in the Year of the Tiger:

"The Tiger is said to be lucky vivid, lively and engaging. Another attribute of the Tiger is his incredible bravery, evidenced in his willingness to engage in battle or his undying courage. Maybe he’s so brave because he is so lucky. But the Chinese say a Tiger having a Tiger in the house is the very best protection against the evils of fire, burglary."

There is a lot more information on the website, so I would check it out if you are interested. 2010 is the year of the Metal Tiger. Metal Tigers are different from Water Tigers, but you will have to do that research for yourselves.

(My brother is a Water Tiger, and my father is an Earth Tiger.)

Because it is the Chinese New Year, we can only talk about happy, lucky things. I will have to pick up the thread of my blog story next week when a little bit of suspense and danger won't be a jinx, so you'll have to come back again...

And now I leave you with the words that every child repeats over and over on Chinese New Year:

恭喜發財, 紅包拿來! (Gong Xi Fa Cai, Hong Bao Na Lai--Congratulations, Best Wishes for Prosperity, Give me my red envelope!)

May the Year of the Tiger be happy, healthy and prosperous for all of you!