Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Large Family Has Too Many Stories (2)

Hello blogging buddies,

I am alive and well. My paper presentation at UCLA went very well. But I have had some health problems and got some test results back and needed to move unexpectedly to a better location for my health. I am improving now in my new place and able to get back to writing. Thanks for your comments of encouragement on my last post. I am now going to show you a picture of me at my UCLA panel. This was after we had given our presentations and were answering questions.

And now for today's blog post. Here is a picture of my kids and their cousins when we were all living together in a household of 13 in Taiwan. Peace is still little and is not pictured.

A Large Family Has Too Many Stories (2)


Not long after Peace was born trouble struck another of my sisters-in-law. This one had dreams of being a singer, and she had been accepted into a cultural dance group touring Japan to demonstrate the Taiwanese aborigines’ songs and dances. She went for about six weeks, made good money, and had a fantastic time. Later, she was contacted by someone who claimed to have seen her perform. He wanted to give her a six-month contract performing in various venues in Japan. The first time she went, another of the sisters and I had vetted the company pretty thoroughly to be sure it was legitimate. This time we were busy with babies and weddings, and we just assumed that she was with the same company. A few days before she was to leave, I learned that it was an entirely different organization, but by then it was too late. I did purchase $100 US dollars from the boss at the Gloria English School and gave it to her with instructions to hide it well and use it in an emergency. I had a bad feeling about the whole thing, but her ticket had been purchased, and it was too late. Five weeks after she left, Ma got a phone call from Japan. This new company was a front for selling girls into sex slavery. She had managed to bribe someone with the $100 and made a phone call. The person who was helping her gave me an address. Fortunately, my uncle from America was working in Japan for an international accounting firm. He notified the proper authorities, and we got my sister-in-law. Later, we had to change our phone number because the boss of that company was disgruntled and gave our home phone out to Japanese businessmen as the number of a call girl center. But in the end, that was a small price to pay. From then on, that sister worked in the family construction business.

While the singing sister was still in Japan, one of the married sisters and her husband had a huge fight with her parents-in-law. The father-in-law threw a hot iron for pressing leather at the husband, and their family was forced to flee. They came to our house with their two children in tow. Yuntian was in the south attending military high school, so their family slept in his room downstairs off the kitchen. Now our household was up to 13. Ma and I had five babies and toddlers to care for. In the mornings before school, while Ma was doing the laundry, I would take all the toddlers out in the indestructible, metal stroller with the baby in a carrier on my back. We would walk around the neighborhood looking at the duck farm and the huge pigs that people were raising for sacrifice during “ghost month.” When we got home the kids would play, and Ma and I would feed them. Then Ma would put them all down for a nap while I went off to teach. In the evening, all the adults would care for the kids.

This went on for several months while Pa and the men negotiated with the other family. But their own son was still mad that his father had thrown something so dangerous in a room with babies. So eventually, they decided to move into their own place. But they did not have much money, and they had no furniture. Pa put up money for chairs and a bed for them, but then needed a refrigerator and stuff for the kitchen. Yuni offered them all my wedding presents. I got home from class one night to find Ma awake and greatly agitated. She was afraid I would walk out because my husband was giving away my trousseau. I was not terribly thrilled, but I also thought that it would be nice to go back down to just 9 members in the household, so I agreed to sell them my things for a nominal sum. I never saw the money because the men handled it, but I did agree to part with the items.

About two months later, they reconciled with the husband’s family. It turned out that his mother liked to gamble. She played the lottery and mahjong, and she always lost. She used to take the money for groceries and even the babies’ milk from my sister-in-law, and then blame the shortage on the daughter-in-law (everything can usually be pinned on a daughter-in-law in large Chinese families). My sister-in-law got upset and stopped handling any money. Then her husband caught on to Mama’s gambling addiction. Next, Mama tried to pin things on her son, but he naturally could argue back. His father threw the iron for pressing leather pieces for shoes at him because the father refused to believe anything bad about his wife. After both my sister-in-law and her husband were out of the house, the family was still always short of cash, and Mama’s secret addiction was revealed. Apologies were made, gifts were purchased. My sister-in-law was given the entire third floor of their house for her family, and the father of that family came and begged Pa to exhort them to go home. Without their income the family was having trouble making ends meet. Since his daughter and son-in-law were amenable, they moved back. Most of my wedding gifts were just abandoned in their apartment for the next tenant. Mama did not want them bringing home any reminders of their sojourn away from home. And of course, unspoken rules of largesse said that we couldn’t go scavenge after they had moved.

And so I began to learn how little input women have in these large, traditional Chinese families. I have since learned that these attitudes are not uncommon in other Asian cultures, too, especially among rural and working class families. Part of the problem was that it involved another household. The Liu women can say a great deal when it only affects their own family, but when outsiders are involved, everything is done by the men, and “women’s talk” is less than unimportant.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Conference Break

Sorry for not posting so regularly this spring. I was writing a paper for publication and presentation. And finally, next weekend, I will be presenting the paper at a graduate student conference at UCLA (see the following link). Of course, due to budget cuts, probably, they have not updated the website with the correct spelling of my name or the correct title of my paper. I have posted the first slide of my presentation, so you can see the correct title. (Jin Yong is the most popular Chinese author of 20th century martial arts fiction. For my master's thesis, I am analyzing his works and their effect on Chinese identity. He is my favorite author, and I love kung fu novels, movies, and tv shows. One of my advisors told me that for a thesis you have to write about what you love... My kids still think I'm cheating.)

The conference is free and put on by the Comparitive Lit department of UCLA. It seems that anyone interested can attend if there are seats.

My family is big on academics. So of course my mom and aunt had to give me a make-over (that was last weekend). I hope to be back with regular blog posts by March 20th.