After Labor Day of our second year in America, we had enough money to take the kids back to Taiwan for a visit. Since we had been living abroad for two years, we were expected to bring back all kinds of gifts. Fortunately, shampoos that were cheap in America were considered to be expensive and of better quality than Taiwanese products. We went to K-Mart and bought out the shampoo and conditioner shelves for Yuni’s sisters and nieces. The older generation had discovered the benefits of Ben-Gay for sore muscles after Third Maternal Uncle had visited the US on a trip sponsored by the Lions Club. We bought out the super-sized tubes of Ben-Gay for all the aunts and uncles. Then we got bags of candy for the little kids.
Yuni only had a week’s vacation, so we left late Friday night and stayed until the following Sunday. Ma felt that it was not nearly enough time. I was inclined to agree with her because every night we visited different relatives or got invited out to dinner by someone in the clan. It was a whirlwind visit that was quite fun for all, but it was truly exhausting.
I did not realize it at the time, but later Ma told me that Yuni had discussed with his father our moving back to Taiwan since my grandfathers had both passed away, and my grandmothers were now stable and happy. That idea was soundly rebuffed to Ma’s great disappointment because Pa had been spreading face-saving tales among the family. He said that Yuni was about to buy his own house and start his own company, and that he would be getting his Master’s degree in architecture from an American university. After we returned to the US, I assumed that Yuni’s grumpiness stemmed from having to return immediately to work with a mega-case of jet lag.
A week or so after we had returned to the US, Yuni began to set the conditions for his return to Taiwan in motion. One of our friends from church was a wealthy Taiwanese businessman with factories in both Taiwan and China. He had been appalled at our neighborhood and had been looking for a house in Bellevue that he could buy and rent to us. Yuni had some discussions with him after church, and the upshot was that he would put up 50% down payment and we would get a loan for the other 50%, and we would buy a home for us together in Bellevue. We went to the bank and got preapproved for the loan. Then we used my grandmother’s lawyer and drew up the agreement. Next we started house hunting.
We found a place that was just perfect. It had a large backyard, rooms for our family and Fei, and it was close to the freeway to Yuni’s work and my grandmother’s as well as to my dad’s place. We made our offer and waited for the loan to close. 60 days later, the underwriter still had not decided. Fortunately, my aunt was a vice president in the bank, and she was able to get several reviews done because we had gotten a letter of pre-approval without any problem. Our measly little loan was decided by several vice presidents and a branch manager. Our earnest money was safe, and we moved into our first house in America.
A few weeks later, Hurricane Andrew tore through Florida, and the call went out at church for skilled masons and tile setters to help families rebuild. Yuni’s work was getting slow, and he arranged with his boss to take voluntary leave instead of getting laid off so that he could go to Florida to help rebuild the church hall and houses for church members. There was a huge problem in Florida of people having insurance money, but not being able to find a contractor to fix their houses. The congregation in Bellevue chipped in to buy Yuni’s ticket, and he set off alone on a plane for the first time in his life. He did not yet have a cell phone.
Yuni arrived in Florida without mishap, and he found a pay phone to call his contact in Miami for a pick up at the airport. The person asked him where he was, and all he could say was “Airport.” The driver said, “Which airline?” Yuni answered, “Airport.” Finally, I got a call from the church elders asking me for his flight information. Yuni waited at the airport for an hour before they found him and took him to the family with whom he was to be billeted. There were only two Chinese families in the church group there, and both their homes had been laid to waste. Yuni was staying with a Caucasian family who spoke no Chinese. It was time for him to put his English lessons to use.
The family lent him a bicycle, and he cycled around Miami laying tile, fixing boundary walls, and doing other projects for numerous families in the church there. He worked for three months and made quite a bit of money. The first time he decided to send me money for the mortgage, he got a long white envelope and stuffed it with $3000 in cash. Then he sent it by regular mail. I almost had a cow. He called home once a week from a pay phone to talk to me and the kids. I told him that he had an ATM card and should deposit the money directly into our bank account. He had never done that before because I had been doing all the books and things requiring English. We rehearsed the ATM prompts on several different phone calls, and the next time he got paid, Yuni deposited the funds himself. His time in Miami really gave him confidence that he could survive on his own in America. He learned to buy his own materials, to use the bank, to order his own meals, and to deal with English-speaking customers and insurance companies. It was a very profitable three months for him in many, many ways.