Sunday, May 23, 2010

Moving to America

Finally all things were ready, and it was time to go. The entire Liu clan saw us off at the airport. We had little backpacks with toys for the kids. We also had several huge suitcases with all our clothes. We left most things in Taiwan, since we were planning to return. I could walk, but I was not allowed to carry anything. Each girl had to carry her own backpack. Yuni had the diaper bag and two other carry-on bags with everything that we would need for the long trip. Since neither of us would have hands to pick up a wayward girl, a week or so before our departure, I began impressing upon them the need to stay close to us in the airport. Ma helped me. We told them in Hakka, Mandarin, and English that we would be traveling, and they had to stay right with us. If they got lost in the airport, they could be left behind. All three looked at us with wide, solemn eyes and nodded.

We left the relatives in the waiting room and went behind the glass partition to the exit station and gates of the Chiang Kai-Shek Airport. Ma and all the sisters and cousins were crying. The girls were happy and excited. I was sniveling myself. Yuni walked in front with the bags, the three girls followed behind him, and I brought up the rear. We made it to the gate without mishap. Soon the call went out for pre-boarding. We all trooped onto the plane and got settled into our seats. We took up one whole center row. Yuni and I each sat on an aisle, and the three girls were in between. They played with their toys or listened to stories or napped. On the whole, they were very good.

In those days, there were no direct flights from Taipei to Seattle. We were going to have to change planes in Seoul. It was two years after the Seoul Olympics, and there was a very large and very cute tiger in a glass case in the middle of the airport between our two gates. The three children were entranced. But we did not have time to gawk, as we only had 20 minutes between flights. Yuni told me to keep walking because I could not run. He let the girls stare for three minutes, before he told them to start moving. They ignored him. He began walking off, reminding them that they might get left behind in the airport. Love was the first one to pick up on the fact that I was no longer behind them. She pulled Truth’s sleeve, and told her in Hakka, “We will be left behind.” Truth and Peace both looked up and saw their parents disappearing down the corridor. Love took one of Peace’s hands and Truth took the other. The three of them came tearing after us. We made it to the gate just in time for pre-boarding. The girls never lagged behind us in a public place after that. They always made sure to be within grabbing range when we traveled or went to museums.

The flight from Seoul to Seattle was long, but uneventful. Unfortunately, we had to put the twins back into diapers. They were potty trained as long as they could get swiftly to their potty seats, but there was no guarantee that they would be free to use the restroom as needed on a crowded plane. They also went back on their bottles because it was easier for them to drink from bottles on the plane. Adjustment was hard for them in America without all the support of the extended family; potting training and drinking from cups went by the wayside. In the end, all three got out of diapers and off of bottles at the same time just before Peace turned three years old.

When we arrived in America, we went through immigration. The girls and I all had US passports, but Yuni had a sealed envelope from the American Institute in Taipei with the papers granting him immigrant status. We showed the envelope to the official at the desk and were immediately sent to a little room. Yuni and his envelope went inside. The girls and I sat outside. After what seemed like an eternity, Yuni emerged with a temporary resident visa stamped into his passport. His green card would be sent to us in the mail. Everyone else from the plane had left by the time we got to the baggage claim. We got our huge suitcases and stacked them on carts. Then we staggered out through the doors.

My dad and his wife had seen us from the observation windows. They came down to the doors when we got the carts loaded. It was so good to see them. They had brought two cars in order to take us to their home. They had also borrowed car seats from friends and relatives. We safely made it to Dad’s condo in the center of Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. They had futons in their TV room for Yuni and me, and the girls slept on blankets on the floor. The five of us all went to sleep.

The next few days were spent visiting my grandparents and other relatives. We had dinners here and dinners there. We took the kids to the Woodland Park Zoo, the Seattle Science Center, and the aquarium. Then we all went for a ferry ride. My maternal grandfather had cancer and could not really leave his apartment, so we went to his place a lot. My other grandfather had been in a car accident not long before we arrived. He had had a stroke; no one knew if it was what had caused the accident or the result of the accident. He was in a nursing home where his wife could have an apartment on the tenth floor. We went with my dad to help clean out their condo. Dad let us take what we needed from Grammie’s kitchen. We also got some bookshelves and a hide-a-bed loveseat. My brother Tom had boxes of things that he no longer needed. He took us to his storage locker and let us forage. Other relatives gave us their unwanted furniture and household items. Soon we had enough stuff for an apartment, but we needed a place to live and jobs.

We came with just a few hundred dollars because we had left so much money in Taiwan to pay the mortgage for Ma’s peace of mind. I had several thousand in a US bank account from before I had gone to Taiwan. My dad added a couple of thousand, but there was so much that we needed to buy. We had to get a car, and we had to pay first and last month’s rent. Diapers were expensive, as was formula. We were not used to American prices. Everything was so much more expensive than in Taiwan. We finally found a station wagon that Yuni could use for carrying construction materials. The owner gave us a break on the price when he saw us appearing en masse as a family. It cost us $2000 plus tax and licensing.

Yuni had been expecting a job as a full-time mason. But in between the time that my dad had sent us newspapers showing lots of work for masons and the time we arrived in the US, Seattle had entered the 1989 recession. The rest of the country was improving, but Seattle was just going down. My dad had a contact at the mason’s union, and the three of us went for the interview. The man was very nice. He looked politely at Yuni’s licenses and award certificates. Then he told us that Taiwanese standards and US standards were too different. Yuni could start as an apprentice and learn again from the ground up. He would be a hod carrier and earn $8.50 per hour. There was not much work, so he would only be guaranteed twenty hours work per week until business picked up. After two years, he could take the exam to be a journeyman mason. If he joined the union, he could not take non-union jobs. We walked out crushed. Yuni thought my family looked down on him since they had not come through with what he felt had been promises for a job. The Taiwanese news had not said much about the US recession; so as far as he was concerned, the recession did not exist. There was one company advertising in the want ads for a person to do precast concrete. The pay would be $7.10 during the probationary period. We were not desperate enough yet for him to take that job.

I sent out my resume looking for work as an assistant coordinator in the office of international students at a local community college. I was among the top three applicants, and I got called back for a couple of interviews, but in the end, I was told that going abroad for two or three years after college is good, but staying for eight years becomes a liability. While I understood the Taiwanese system, I no longer understood America. Several other places also refused me. We didn’t know what to do. We could not stay at my dad’s place for more than thirty days because it was a “no children” condo. After thirty days we lost our status as guests. Without jobs, we did not know how we could afford an apartment. Finally, we found a place near the international district that would let us in for first month/last month plus a security deposit with my dad as a co-signer. We took it before we had work. Everyone in my family was helping us look, but they were professionals and didn’t have an in with masons and construction workers.

We moved into the apartment and bought a newspaper. That job with the precast concrete was still there. Yuni had been to so many places looking for work, but his experience in Taiwan was discounted and his lack of English was a liability. Moreover, there was not much work for anyone. Finally, we had no choice; all the money was just about gone. All five of us piled into the station wagon and drove to the precast concrete company. Yuni went upstairs to get the application and brought it down to the car so I could fill it out. Then he went back up for the interview. About fifteen minutes later, he came down to the car and brought me and the kids back up to translate. The company was family-owned. When I went up with the three girls in tow, the boss’s wife gave her husband a look. In less than ten minutes, Yuni had a provisional job for the next month. He would make $7.10 per hour until he could prove that his lack of English would not hinder him from finishing concrete. By the second day, they had raised his wages to $8.35 per hour and made him a permanent employee. It was a lower hourly wage than the union was paying, but most weeks they had over-time hours available. The foreman was a very nice man who took it upon himself to teach Yuni English. Every day Yuni would come home with a list of English words from the foreman. I would give him the Chinese, and he would spend hours and hours memorizing them.

We had an apartment, one income, and a car; we were well and truly arrived.


murat11 said...

"I was sniveling myself." Loved that. The epic journey continues (and continues). How intriguing to be immigrating back to your own country. Still doing it, too, I would say, in the deeper soul levels of yourself.

Teresa said...

I think I'm only just beginning to actually integrate the two cultures now.

Cloudia said...

a page turner!