Sunday, May 16, 2010

Preparing to Immigrate

Yuni and the twins at Window on China

I suppose I should explain after my last post, that I finally figured those insights out in just the past few months. The differences in shame versus guilt and in views on gender values have always been conundrums to me, and they are two areas where we have experienced certain glitches along the way. For the most part, things were good, and we were quite happy. When I called my family to tell them that we would be immigrating to the US, my grandparents were quite pleased. One of my grandfathers had been diagnosed with a return of cancer, and he was not expected to live for very much longer. I was his only married grandchild, and he wanted to spend time with his only great-grandchildren while he was still alive.

So we decided to head for the Seattle area. My dad and his wife were there as were both sets of grandparents and my aunt and uncle and a couple of great-aunts. My family tree is something like an inverted pyramid, and to this day, I am the only one in my generation on either side of the family who is married with children. My dad sent us information about the market for masons, and it looked like Yuni would be able to get work as a mason and earn a very good wage, if he could get into the union. While we were waiting for his paperwork from the Immigration Department to come through, we went to all his schools getting certified English transcripts. We also got notarized English translations of his various construction trade licenses from Taiwan and his awards from both the Taiwan National Skill Olympics and the International Skill Olympics.

We continued working, and of course, there were family obligations, too. Both of my two unmarried sisters-in-law got engaged that summer before we left. In the Chinese system, the engagement party is done by the family of the bride, and the wedding is done by the groom’s family. So Yuni and I were there to play our roles as elder brother and sister-in-law in the ceremonies. They were traditional with gifts of gold and trays of money for the bride price. Since I had not required a bride price, Pa decided that he would no longer “sell” off his daughters, as his way of thanking the girls for helping him out of bankruptcy. He did take the money from the grooms’ families, but he put it into a secret bank account for each daughter as her own private nest egg.

Just before I got off my crutches, Yuntian had a grand mal epileptic seizure on his first major sea voyage with the navy. He was unconscious for 24 hours on the ship because they had to sedate him to stop the convulsions. Pa, Ma, and Yuni were completely distraught at the thought that Yuntian’s ailments were back. They decided that it would be too dangerous for them to drive in their hysteria, but they wanted me to go talk to the doctors, as I had gotten information on epilepsy from my clinical chemist father and veterinarian uncle. Besides, all medical records in Taiwan are written in English. The seven of us (including the babies) took the train to the southernmost part of the island to the Navy base where Yuntian’s ship was stationed. There is a large hospital in the middle of that base. Pa and Yuni were sure that we would have no trouble getting a taxi. But when we got there, the police were sweeping the taxi stands at the train station for taxis that took more than 4 passengers. We had to walk (or crutch) half a mile out to the regular streets before we could all get into one car with the kids on grown-ups’ laps in the back seat. Then, when we got to the Navy base, the taxi could not go inside. We had to crutch and walk another half mile or more to the hospital. We got to see Yuntian, and I was able to talk to his doctor. The doctor wanted to discharge Yuntian from the Navy immediately, but Yuntian wanted to stay and try to finish out his term of duty. He wanted to get transferred to a land unit in the Navy.

That night we stayed with the family I had lived with during my first year in Taiwan. The husband was Air Force and taught at a military college not far from the Navy base. While we were eating dinner with them, I asked him what we should do. He immediately got on the phone. First, he called a friend from church who was a doctor at the Navy hospital. The next day that friend drove us in a van up to the hospital door, so I didn’t need to crutch around. Then my friend called his uncle, who was the second in command of the entire Navy for all of Taiwan. (I really did not know that I had such powerful friends.) The uncle worked things out, and after two days we were able to bring Yuntian home for a months’ leave. When he returned to the base, he would be put into the shore patrol unit as a staff sergeant. We took Yuntian to the hospital where I had had my surgeries and got him tested and put onto anticonvulsants. By the time he went back, he was doing fine, and he was tagged as a friend of the second-in-command, so things went well for him. He stayed in the Navy for another few years before he was discharged.

The trip to the South reminded Yuni and me that we needed to show the girls Taiwan before we left. So we took trips every other weekend. We drove on several of the cross-island highways. We went to the Taroko Gorge, and we went to the wild animal park near Window on China. As far as the kids were concerned, the wild animal park was the best. It was the typical Taiwanese, unsafe and insane kind. You drove your family car through along a road with wild animals just roaming in open cages that you were driving inside. The lions crossed the road in front of you. The baboons would jump onto the cars and pull off the windshield wipers. It was all very exciting. At the end, there was a petting zoo with real farm animals. We stayed there for quite awhile as Ma caught ducks and geese and held them so her granddaughters could safely pet them. I’m not sure the animals were quite sure what to do with the Liu family visits. The kids liked it so much that we went several times.

I also went back for my final exam on the bone graft. The doctor said it had taken wonderfully, and I had exercised my leg well, so I could walk without any problems. Then I asked him why my right knee, which had been injured in high school, was hurting so badly after six months of putting all my weight on it. Dr. Hsu was perplexed. He ordered an immediate MRI and learned that at the age of 16 I had had ALL the cartilage in it removed during a procedure in which the surgeon should have left a small pad of cartilage. He questioned me further about what was done, and I learned that I had memorized only part of the name of the procedure. Dr. Hsu had assumed that because I could spell “minesectomy,” I knew what it meant and had the correct medical definition of the procedure. Because I had no cartilage, the bones in my knee had shifted over the six months that I was on crutches; hence, I was in great pain. He suggested that I lie on the couch until I was in my 60s when I could get a knee replacement surgery and that I lose the 15 pounds that I had gained from all Ma’s calcium-laden bone soups during my recovery. I thought, “I am 28, I have three kids under the age of three, I am moving to America without my mother-in-law in just a few months, I have to work, and there is no way I will lose any weight just lying on the couch.” But of course, I smiled politely and thanked the doctor. (I was already very Chinese.)

As soon as I got home, I went to the old Chinese doctor whose shop was by the big clock in the center of Chungli. I asked him what I should do. He gave me an herbal prescription to help with the pain, and then he said that I needed to keep moving. He said that my body would find its own equilibrium if I moved slowly and gently and paid attention to my breathing. So I began doing qi gong exercises and some tai chi exercises that I had learned while I was still single. And the Chinese doctor was right; I would never run again, but I have done pretty much everything I have wanted to do since then. The breathing really helps. It’s amazing. So does listening to my body.

Yuni passed his immigration physical at the 7th Day Adventist Hospital in Taipei. We got our plane reservations. We packed up clothes and things. Ma spent the summer trying to convince us to leave the kids with her. But I wanted to keep them bilingual, and there was no way they would get any English without me in the household. We did leave enough of our savings in Taiwan to pay the mortgage on the family’s home for three and a half years. We planned to be in the US just until the twins were elementary school age. Then we would return to Taiwan until they were in high school and come back to the US for high school and college. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…

But like the millions of immigrants who have come to the US, we had stars in our eyes about life in America, the international land of promise. I knew that it would not be as rosy as Yuni was dreaming; however, I did not know how to explain it to him. I knew that he would have culture shock and that I would have re-entry shock and that the kids would have to transition to a life without doting grandparents and aunts in the same household. But even I was not prepared for the reality that hit when we arrived in the US in the middle of a recession.


Cloudia said...

I feel so lucky to be reading this. Really, it should be a book! University press?

Glad you found and listened to that "old Chinese doctor."

Thank you & Aloha from Spring Time in Waikiki!

Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

Thanks for the encouragment, Cloudia. It probably isn't "buff" enough for a university press. It's too colloquial and user friendly. I will probably do the google publishing thing and get copies for those who want them.

The old Chinese doctor who came from a long line of Chinese doctors and had been trained by his father and grandfather was a real blessing. His wise advice on several health matters kept me going for many years. I used to love going to his shop when they were sorting and chopping a fresh batch of raw herbs. It was a sight to behold and an assault on the olefactory nerves!

murat11 said...

Not a good idea to let men and mice make the plans. Always gotta have the feminine. Your last paragraph left us with a mighty fine teaser. Can't wait for the next installment.

HELLO! Two more days of finals! Almost time to breathe again! Be well.

Teresa said...

Hi Murat,

Don't know what you mean about two more days of finals... I finished mine just fine. Two of my grades are posted, "A's" despite all my health issues. I think the professors were being particularly nice. Good luck on your finals, although I'm not sure why they would be so hard on the teacher??? Do you have your classes write the tests and then you take them? What kind of school do you teach at anyways??

Who says some of those mice weren't feminine??


murat11 said...

You know, stacking papers and making sure all the edges are lined up is harder than you might think. The breathing comment was more in reference to the fact that things get fast and furious in the final days; less time for my other day job as a blogger of the erpareme (your word verification for the day; has to be the parallel universe I's lives in).

Teresa said...

Well, after reading the commencement speech you gave, I can understand why finals days were going fast and furious. Props to you, bro, in whatever universe you find yourself!