Friday, September 30, 2011

Eldest Sister's Tragedy (1)

In the wee hours of November 13 that same year, we got a frantic phone call from one of Yuni’s sisters. Eldest Sister and her husband had been in an accident in the mountains. Eldest Brother-in-law and his own elder brother and their two cousins were dead. Eldest Sister had been buried alive, but she was screaming so loud, bystanders heard her and dug her out. She had had surgery and was hanging on by a thread in a hospital in Hsinchu. She was going to be in the hospital for an extended stay, and we were needed to help out.

Yuni took the phone call, and afterwards he was numb. He was in between jobs, and he had been preparing to go down to California to do some stonework for the church publishing company there. He was just sitting in a stupor, but I managed to get him to call to make arrangements to postpone the job so that he could come with us to Taiwan and stay through the funeral. At least this trip we did not need to borrow money for the plane tickets.

We got our plane reservations and hauled out the suitcases. We were going to leave in less than thirty-six hours. I did laundry and got many things packed, when I noticed that Yuni had not moved for several hours. The children were quite worried. Finally, I persuaded him to take us to a park and to go for a walk. As we were driving to the park, Yuni began talking about Eldest Brother-in-law. Eldest Brother-in-law had been Pa’s first apprentice. He had come to live with the Lius when he was 15, after he had finished junior high. He was three years older than Yuni, and the two of them had shared a room. Yuni called him Elder Brother for the first five or six years of their relationship until Eldest Brother-in-law married Eldest Sister. Eldest Brother-in-law had given Yuni his Vespa scooter and his 35mm camera. He had been so good to him.

Yuni began telling me about Eldest Brother-in-law’s family. Eldest Brother-in-law was the second son. His family had decided that he would work from the time he was of high school age so that his brother could take lessons for the university entrance exam. He supported his elder brother through medical school. The brother who died with him was a doctor, who had lived in Taipei. Even though Eldest Brother-in-law had been sacrificed for his three brothers’ education, none of his brothers or his parents appreciated him. He was despised for being a laborer, even though he had had no choice in the matter. Yuni was very bitter about this because it meant that Elder Sister suffered in their household. Her mother-in-law was always finding fault with her. For many years after their marriage, Eldest Brother-in-law and Eldest Sister lived in the Liu household; their first two children were born while they were living with Pa and Ma. They lived with Ma and Pa so that Eldest Brother-in-law could save money to give to his family to meet his parents’ demands, but his parents refused to give him any support.

After telling his stories as we walked in a park with paths along a marsh and ducks and fall weather, Yuni seemed to be doing better. The girls could get through to him, and he began to play with them. We went out for dinner that night, and then we went home. I packed the freshly laundered clothes while Yuni and the girls watched TV. I also called my ESL students to take time off from teaching them. Everyone was quite understanding.

We left early in the morning of the second day after receiving the phone call. We arrived in Taiwan on November 17. Pa got us at the airport. Ma was at home waiting for us. She had been sitting in vigil by Eldest Sister’s bed 24 hours a day since the accident. Eldest Sister had awakened, and she was conscious, but very weak. Ma had wanted me to be called back so that I could cook for Pa while Ma was in the hospital. One of the sisters was at the house cooking, and she pulled Yuni aside. She told Yuni that Ma’s ulcers were bleeding again with her worry; she asked if I could stay in the hospital and let Ma stay home with our girls and Pa. They could come down every couple of days to visit. The four other sisters had been rotating time in the hospital with Ma and Eldest Sister, but they needed to work and take care of their families. At that moment, I was quite glad we were doing homeschool. We took an immediate holiday for as long as we needed, even though I had brought some of the books and had been planning to do school in Taiwan.

We had a shower and a meal, and I packed one of our carry-on bags with what I would need in the hospital. Eldest Sister was in a large ward room when we arrived. She had two or three other roommates. She slept a lot almost every day, as she was in extreme pain and on medication. The three youngest sisters were together in the hospital with her. Yuni, Pa, and Ma left me with my sisters-in-law while they took my girls out shopping to get me food and other supplies for the hospital. I needed my own pillow and blanket. Yuni also called some friends from church to let them know that I was there and to arrange for people to visit me from the church group in Hsinchu. It turned out that a friend of his from Taipei had been the overseer on the hospital renovation project. When he heard of the problem, he paid us a personal visit that very night. Eldest Sister was immediately moved to a private room with a cot for me (at no extra charge) because he brought the head of the hospital with him on his visit. Personal attention from the director of the hospital made an immediate difference in the care given to Eldest Sister. She had some residual problems despite the surgery. She had been complaining for over a day, but people were ignoring her. When she told the head of the hospital, the orthopedic surgeon was called, and arrangements were made for further treatments. It made a huge difference.

 Finally, Pa, Ma, Yuni, my children, and my other sisters-in-law headed back to Chungli. Eldest Sister-in-law and I settled in for her recuperation. I was there for seven weeks, and some very interesting things happened over that time period. (More about that later.) Suffice to say that Eldest Sister had been buried under rubble from a landslide in the mountains. Her stomach and other internal organs had ruptured, but since she was conscious in the emergency room until she went into the operating room, the surgeon decided to try sewing her up. He had done a painstaking job, and it seemed to be working. In addition to the injuries to internal organs, Eldest Sister’s pelvis had been broken in two or three places. The orthopedic surgeon had done his best to fix that, but he said we would not know until after six weeks when the bones had had time to grow back together. In the meantime, he used some traction and other physical therapy to keep Eldest Sister’s back in line and to strengthen her muscles. After everyone was gone and Eldest Sister had had her evening meds, I pulled out my cot, made it up with the sheets and blankets from home, and fell into an exhausted slumber. I had no problem with jet lag that trip.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An American Funeral

After we returned from Taiwan, we repaid the money we had borrowed for our plane tickets to the funeral. Then we got Yuni a general contractor’s license by using the leftover money to put up the bond required by the state. Yuni was able to take big jobs and buy at the wholesale rate, so his business began to pick up. Word went around the Chinese community, and he began to get jobs repairing driveways, retiling bathrooms, remodeling kitchens, and laying tile floors.

We had been home a month when my dad’s mother-in-law passed away. The kids had been close to G-gma, and so we went to the funeral. This was a no casket memorial service. The family chipped in to purchase a memorial bench in a large park in Bellevue. It was set on a grassy hillside among several clusters of trees. The memorial service was for family and close friends only. It was held at the bench. We sat on the bench and on folding chairs in a circle. We read some poems, sang some songs, and then we all shared memories of G-gma. Everyone, even the kids spoke if they wanted. In the end, we sat in silence with our memories. The kids got bored and began running and laughing and playing on the grass. They were wearing dresses with bright flowers on black backgrounds. The dresses didn’t show the grass stains, but their white tights were completely ruined. It was a nice, sunny day, and we all came away with happy memories.

Not long after the funeral, my dad and his wife went to Bali for a six-week trip. Yuni was working six days a week. The girls and I did our school lessons in the mornings, and we went on “field trips” several afternoons a week.

We had bought the girls a guinea pig after we returned from our trip to the East Coast. We all worked to care for her. “Snuggles” was a gentle animal, and they loved to play with her in the TV room. One day when we went to a petting farm for a field trip, the docent showed us a stray angora rabbit that had been left with them. The girls fell in love, and we came home from the trip with “Fluffy” the rabbit in a cardboard box. We quickly bought a cage and kept him just outside the back door. Fluffy and Snuggie became great friends. They would walk around the back yard on sunny days and play together in the TV room. When leaves got caught in Fluffy’s fur, Snuggie would come close and groom him.

Almost two weeks before my dad was scheduled to return home, I received a call from his wife. She was quite distraught and at their condo moving out. My dad’s second marriage was over. This news hit Yuni very hard. It came out that my dad had another woman, and he had asked his wife to leave. Because the marriage had been quite short-lived, his second wife was not going to get anything in the divorce settlement. That fact made it even harder for Yuni to accept.

He kept asking me how a college professor and administrator, a scholar, could be such a poor pattern to his progeny. I asked him what he meant. He said that wealthy, upper-class scholars were supposed to be more moral than average people. Education was supposed to make people moral. It was supposed to make them superior to the working classes. They were supposed to be the moral and ethical compass of their families. He asked again and again why my father would set that kind of pattern for his children and grandchildren. It seemed as though he felt betrayed.

I was at a loss to know what to say. I knew that Confucian morality requires teachers to be exemplary and that Chinese culture places emphasis on morality. Parents and teachers are supposed to be a moral pattern to their children and students. But my dad is an American; he doesn’t think like that. I tried to make Yuni see that he could not place his Chinese expectations on my dad, but he refused to accept that idea. He said that I was able to live by Chinese norms. I told him that I had studied the language and culture, so I knew what to expect. He would not accept that notion.

Then he would go into a tirade about the immorality of not supporting a cast-off wife. He would get very incoherent in these tirades, but I think part of it was related to what was happening with Elder Sister in Taiwan. The social nuances went far beyond what I had learned in Chinese classes, but eventually I understood that if a wife leaves a husband, she takes her gold and the clothes on her back. She is entitled to nothing more unless her natal family can show injury to her, and her father and brothers negotiate a separation settlement. Usually, however, the natal family is embarrassed and might even cut her off as well. If the husband casts off a wife, especially a wife who has borne him children or cared for his elderly parents, then he is expected to provide her a substantial sum. The ideal situation is that he would maintain both women in two separate households.  Yuni talked about a man in the village where he grew up who kept his wife with her children in a house at one end of the village street and his mistress with her children in a house at the other end. He was the hero of all the men and boys in town because both families were well-dressed, well-fed, and well-housed. We had a friend in Taipei whose father had run off with a mistress, abandoning his wife and children. The paternal grandparents had disowned their son and supported the faithful wife and her children with his share of the family property.

I tried to explain US divorce laws, but Yuni’s mind was mired in his traditions. He could not and would not accept the notion that a man and a woman could dissolve a marriage so easily, especially when the woman wanted to continue in the relationship. Men did not cast off old loves unless they were well-provided for. I think Yuni’s thinking came from the Chinese concept of marriage as a business and economic relationship rather than a love relationship. Because Dad’s second wife had spent much time and effort caring for my grandparents, Yuni felt that she deserved a handsome parting settlement, at the very least. When my father failed to provide that, Yuni lost respect for him and for all Americans. He had been disappointed by America in so many ways, and I guess this was the final straw. His emotions about Elder Sister’s situation bled into his reactions to the end of my dad’s marriage, too. The combination of all these factors made Yuni very unhappy for quite a long time.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Hakka Funeral, Part 3: The Seventh Seven

During the afternoon on the day of the funeral, all Grandma Chu’s gold and other belongings were divvied up among her children. Each daughter got a piece of gold jewelry and a funeral photograph as a remembrance. Daughters-in-law and granddaughters-in-law got larger pieces of jewelry based on how much time they had spent caring for Grandma during her final illness. The Maternal Uncles divided the rest of the gold and all the money among themselves. Because Yuni and I had taken Grandma Chu to the US and Taiwan, we got gold rings by which to remember her. In addition, the uncles came up to Yuni singly throughout the day, and each asked him in private how much our plane tickets had cost.

We went back home to Chungli that night, and we stayed in Taiwan for about three weeks. We visited the Paternal Uncles a few days after the funeral. We also took the kids to see their aunts and to play with cousins. All of Yuni’s sisters were married now, and most of them were either pregnant or had just given birth recently. There were tons of babies in the family now. When my sisters-in-law visited, I was kept quite busy cooking for everyone, although now that they were married and understood how tiring it is to cook for large crowds all day, every day, my sisters-in-law would squeeze into the kitchen and work together with me. We had some great times.

During our time at home, each of the maternal uncles came to visit to thank us for showing our filial piety at the funeral. They would invariably take Yuni into one of the bedrooms for an “important discussion” during which they would give him money to help defray our travel expenses. Pa also gave us money because he gained great face when his son returned from America with the entire family in tow. Eldest Sister contributed quite a bit as well. In the end, we came away with enough to cover the plane tickets and to set Yuni up with the bond for a general contractor’s license when we got back to the States. He kept pointing out to me how much better Chinese families were than American families because they gave money with no strings attached. He had wanted my aunt and father to lend him money to start up his contracting business, but they wanted a business plan and an IOU note in writing. Yuni was totally offended at the idea of family members needing to put financial matters into writing. I did not know what to say because I felt that his family was rewarding us for filial piety, so we had met their conditions for lending or giving money ahead of time. The face gained by the family was worth quite a bit, especially since distant relatives and neighbors had been laying bets that Pa and Ma had lost their eldest son to America. We silenced the ugly rumors and gave Pa and Ma ammunition to use back at people. In the end, I just let Yuni vent and agreed that his family was extremely generous to us.

Much of the time during family visits was spent catching up on the latest gossip. With all the cousins and siblings and their children, there were literally hundreds of people about whom we could gossip. One of the saddest pieces of news was the Eldest Sister’s husband had decided to set up a mistress in a separate household in order to try for a second son. The mistress was still pregnant, and Eldest Sister was worried that if the child was a boy, her husband would abandon her and her children. She said that he was already bringing home less money than usual and was always yelling at her when she presented him with bills. She had stopped working in order to devote herself to her son, and she insisted that her husband keep up the payments on her house and everything in it. Traditional Chinese culture allows men to keep several women, but the first wife is supposed to maintain her position, and her finances are not supposed to be affected by any of the mistresses. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way, but the women go passive-aggressive and make sure the man pays absolutely all the bills. If they earn pin money on the side, they hide it in case they get turned out in favor of the new love. Yuni was quite distressed to hear that his beloved Elder Sister was in such a miserable situation. The greatest indignation in the family was due to the loss of financial support to Elder Sister and her five children. Elder-Brother-in-Law had had numerous affairs prior to this, but he had never set up a mistress in her own household. That was a real slap in the face to Elder Sister and to the entire Liu family, especially since Pa had been Elder-Brother-in-Law’s master teacher in masonry. Without Pa’s help, Elder-Brother-in-Law would not have been able to earn such a good living.

A day or two before we left to return to the US, we all went back to Third Maternal Uncle’s home to participate in the 7th Seven ceremony. Beginning the seventh day after Grandma Chu’s death, the family had made special sacrifices and hired a Daoist priest to perform rituals to help her soul pass on to the spirit world. These rituals were held weekly for seven weeks after the death and then sacrifices were to be made annually on Grandma Chu’s death day. The 7th Seven was an extra-special ceremony, as it was the last event of the funeral proceedings. We all gathered around dusk (the propitious hour) in Third Maternal Uncle’s large front room. It had been completely emptied of furniture, and reed mats were spread on the floor. We all dressed in blacks and whites again, although the girls were finally allowed to wear their blue and white polka-dot dresses. The uncles, their wives, and children all knelt on the mats facing the door while the Daoist priest chanted and waved his incense and fan in front of them. He had bells that he rang at different points during his ritual, and he also had the curved wooden divining blocks that people throw in temples to cast their fortune. A boiled whole chicken, a bowl of rice, some wine, and a pile of fruit and candies were laid out on a table just inside the door. After about thirty minutes of prayer and ritual, during which the uncles wept loudly, the priest asked all of Grandma Chu’s children and grandchildren to call her to come eat. They shouted, the priest dropped the blocks, and the blocks both fell curved side up. That meant Grandma’s spirit had not come. The process was repeated about ten times. The uncles were quite desperate and began beating their breasts and crying even more loudly.

Ma and I were standing at the back with my children; I asked her why they were so upset. She said that the blocks had not been one up, one down yet for all of the seven ceremonies. That meant that Grandma Chu’s spirit had not returned to visit her children, and the uncles were afraid they had angered their mother with their lack of filial piety. I reminded Ma that Grandma Chu had converted to Christianity prior to her death. I had heard of cases where the Daoist rituals didn’t work in half Christian families. Finally, in the very end, the Daoist priest kicked the blocks as they were bouncing and got them to the one up, one down position. The Maternal Uncles were relieved, and the ceremony was over. We all went into the back kitchen/dining room area for a huge feast spread out on four big tables. While we were eating, Ma reminded her brothers about what the youngest grandson had seen, the vision of Grandma Chu being carried to heaven by two men in white just after her death. Ma told them that if Grandma Chu was in heaven with Jesus, the Daoist priest would not have been able to reach her, but they could be assured that she was happy. This made them all very relieved, and the poor boy was called to the Uncles’ table to repeat what he had seen and be quizzed about all the details. When we finally finished eating, Ma and Pa, Yuni and our children and I hurried back to Chungli so that we could get up early to pack and get things ready for our trip home.   

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer in Shanghai

I apologize for my long absence from blogging. After the conference in Hawaii, I had to go into overdrive to finish the semester, get ready for surgery, and get a rough draft of my entire thesis done before I left for a month in Hong Kong and Shanghai (mostly in Shanghai). I did it!!
And I had the surgery. It was successful, and the surgeon found conclusive evidence that in the past, some procedure WAS done on me without my permission (see my post about giving birth to Peace). I will need further surgery to fix the aftermath of that, but at least the potentially dangerous beasties have been removed, and I am able to move forward to full health.

Because I got to Hong Kong just a little more than a week after my final health procedure, I did not do any extraneous sightseeing. I spent several days with my friends—the scribe, the heroine and Pommes—and did research in some archives at the Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as some interviews to bolster that research. Pommes and his servants are such gracious people; it was so nice to have a welcoming place to hang. The temperatures were high, as was the humidity, and it was nice to not feel compelled to rush around seeing sights. We did eat some awesome dim sum, but that is de rigueur in Hong Kong.

 On July 31, I arrived in Pudong Airport in Shanghai. As we landed, we were surrounded by a billowing yellow fog. Looking out the window, we could not see to the end of the runway, and it felt like we were in some eerie 1950’s sci-fi movie. Shanghai was hotter and more humid than Hong Kong, and it was much more polluted. I got to my hotel without mishap, and per the program coordinator’s instructions I requested to pay for my own single room as the anesthesia from my surgery and later procedures had exacerbated my allergies, and I needed a safe haven from scents (and pollution). The people at the desk were quite nice, especially when I explained that it was a medical situation, but the coordinator had neglected to mention that I might be making such a request, and they were booked solid, so at about 10 pm, I was called out, when my formerly assigned roommate arrived and tried to get into the room. Eventually, they worked it out, and I had my single room, but the American coordinator kept trying to tell me that I would be okay sharing a room. I had had a major allergy episode in Hong Kong, and the younger women all wore scents of one kind or another with the heat, so I stood my ground. Fortunately, all three of them had been in China doing research prior to the workshop, and they all had places to stay in Shanghai.

The people in the hotel were quite nice. The service was excellent, and I think they felt embarrassed that they had not known to be prepared for my request. They had our translation group and a group of students from Japan, who were studying Chinese. Plus they had group after group of “Red Education” tours. We were in a government-run hotel, and in China, Party cadres rotate through “Red Education” weeks on a regular basis. During that week, they go to a site with significance to the Party where they stay in a government hotel and attend classes on the latest Party updates in the morning. Then they go sightseeing in the afternoon. They ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the hotel every day, and their lunches and dinners were always banquets. The rest of us just sat at small tables around the peripheries of the dining room. It was harder to get a lunch plate there, than to order a full-fledged feast. In the three weeks of our stay there, I think we went through four full tour groups, and there was a fifth just starting when we left.

The translation workshop was wonderful. The Chinese-English group met Mondays and Thursdays. We sat at a formal seminar table complete with microphones (not turned on) and elegant name plates. Our professor was Ted Huters, professor emeritus from UCLA and editor of Renditions translation journal, which is one of the top journals of Chinese-English literary translations. He has decades of experience, and his comments were quite helpful. We students came from different disciplines, and so we each chose an article in our field, one that was related to our research, and we took turns presenting our translations to the group. Professor Huters and our classmates made comments and helped us get the best rendering of the difficult passages. It was thoroughly wonderful. There were some very interesting articles. The students from the English-Chinese class could sit in if they wished, and a few of them added their input to the discussions.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday were the English-Chinese classes. That section was taught by the Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences at Fudan University. His name is Deng Zhenglai, and he is considered to be one of the top five most influential university professors in all of China. He has published about 20 books of his own and 20 more of his translations, plus numerous journal articles. He edits several of China’s top social sciences journals. He was, of course, a strict, traditional Chinese teacher. I felt like I was back in Taiwan with my favorite Chinese teacher. They were all working on one text, James P. Sterba’s “Liberalism and the Challenge of Communitarianism.” It was all about finding a “non-question-begging conception of the good” that accommodates both self-profiting and moral conceptions of the good. Doesn’t that just sound like so much fun to translate into Chinese? The discussions at times got quite heated, and I felt like I was back at the publishing company in Taiwan working on translations of the Bible. All good!! I really liked Professor Deng. I sat in on every minute of every English-Chinese session.

And while I was in China, I did some serious thinking as to whether or not I would continue this blog. I have overt posts about translation clients, who are indeed blacklisted in China. This fact was not lost on the Chinese; I was invited out to dinner twice, and my work with these people and my research on underground churches in China was examined. I suppose it did not help that since May, a certain house church in Beijing has been trying to obtain a facility in which to hold public meetings of approximately a thousand people, and after being repeatedly thwarted by the government, they have taken their large Sunday-morning gatherings to a park in Beijing. I had read about this church on a house-church news listserve. What I did not know until I came back to the US and made some inquiries, is that, about the time I went to China, a group of house-church pastors had banded together to write an open letter to the government calling on China to let the church have its facility AND one of my former translation clients here in the US has been using this incident to promote human rights in China. Due to my health situation, I have not been doing much translation lately because I needed to get my iron count up so I could have anesthesia and surgery, and after my health, school work was my next priority. I had lost contact with some of my “blacker” clients (in China’s eyes), but China didn’t know that. In any event, a very kind lady went over things with me at two different dinners, and then it seems that things checked out, and I was fine. And because of that, I decided that taking down the blog now would be like closing the barn door after the horse had run away. So I will continue posting. My research on Chinese culture for my thesis and some of my more recent experiences have given me a better perspective on earlier episodes in my life, and I find that if anything, I have MORE to say.

I did not do as much sightseeing in China as I would have wished. My first weekend in Shanghai, there was a hurricane. My second weekend, when the translation workshop took a trip to a river town with canals and pretty gardens, I had a major allergy attack and had to stay sedated in my hotel room to get my airways open again. But my last Saturday there, I was able to take the Big Bus tour of all the main points of interest in Shanghai. It starts at People’s Plaza and goes to the Bund, the old French Concession, the main business district, some of the old temples, and it winds up with an evening river cruise on the Huangpu River so you can see the lights in both the old and new Shanghai commercial zones. I liked the river cruise the best. The view from the World Finance Tower was quite nice. The smog was not too bad that day. Another lovely spot was the Yu Garden and Temple of the City God market area. It’s a tourist zone, but I found that by bargaining, I was getting stuff for three times less than the other tourists I met on the river cruise. The Jade Buddha Temple was also interesting in that the statues look more Indian than Chinese. (I did not have a camera... so no pictures.)

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. To me, actually, the highlight was that as a blogger about China, I was “taken to tea,” although as a foreign blogger, I also got to order lamb chops (the most expensive item on the menu). Some of my friends at home did not see things like that. Personally, I was surprised to have even gotten a visa. I have overt posts on my blog about smuggling Bibles into China in the 1980s. I have posted my translations of the work of active (and blacklisted) Chinese democracy advocates. And yet, while I was in China during a situation that the Chinese government sees as a matter of national security, I was treated with kindness and courtesy, and no restrictions were placed on me. I even asked if there would be a problem in the future, if I continued to visit friends in the US who are “blacklisted.” I was told that friendship is a good thing, and I should keep up my friendships. (I had my computer checked, just in case, but my techie didn’t find any bugs.) To be quite honest, in post-9/11 USA, I am not sure we would have treated a foreign person with comparable connections as well as I was treated in China. Had I been someone coming our way, I just might have wound up in Guantanamo or some other off-shore site for “enhanced interrogations.” And I think it’s a sorry state that OUR society has come to.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Traditional Funeral--Hakka Style: Part Two, the Funeral Cortege

Early the next morning, we put on dark colored shorts, plain white shirts, and pure white tennis shoes. We grabbed a bite for breakfast and headed over to Third Maternal Uncle’s house. The tables in the tent had been taken down and stacked against the side of the house. A large altar had been erected at one end of the tent with Grandma Chu’s death portrait hanging at the top. Wooden benches were set up in rows towards the back of the tent, and in front of the altar was a large open space where the rites would be carried out.

Third Maternal Uncle’s Wife bustled us into the back of the house where we put on our funeral clothes. My girls were dressed in bright red robes with boxy hats. Eldest sister’s daughters were in bright red robes with pointy cloth hoods. Her son was dressed in white linen with a boxy hat, though, because as a boy, he had to follow the lineage lines. Ma and all her progeny were dressed in white linen. Men and boys had boxy hats, and women had long hoods. One side of the hood was longer and tied on under the linen belt that tied the robe closed around our waists. The short side of the hood could be drawn over the face when we were wailing or crying. As a daughter, Ma’s belt was made of hemp rope; all her children and grandchildren had white linen belts. Ma had a patch of burlap attached to her hood to show that she was a daughter-in-law or a daughter.

Everyone’s funeral clothes allowed experienced viewers know exactly what relationship the person wearing “filial piety” had with the deceased. The Maternal Uncles wore white linen under-robes with a burlap over-robe, and their belts were made of hemp twine. Their wives wore the white linen outfits like Ma’s. The Maternal Uncles’ hats were boxy except the hat of Eldest Maternal Uncle. His hat was something like a burlap mob cap with a rope crown tying it onto his head. In addition to his funeral outfit, he carried a wooden staff to show that he was the eldest son of the deceased. The eldest grandson, as heir of the family altars to the ancestors, wore the same outfit as Eldest Maternal Uncle without the wooden staff.

The Maternal Uncles’ sons wore white linen with burlap patches on their hats and hemp twine belts. Their daughters and daughters-in-law were dressed like we were. The maternal uncles’ sons’ children wore sky blue robes with red linen patches on their hats. Again the boys had boxy hats, and the girls had the pointy hoods. Children of daughters wore white linen in all generations.

Daughters-in-law and Daughters at a funeral

Sons-in-law and grandsons-in-law wore towels knotted around one shoulder like a sash. They acted as ushers. Because Eldest Maternal Aunt’s husband was in the hospital and unable to attend the funeral, Pa wore the same clothes as a son, except that his hat was boxy instead of mob-cap-style, and he played the role of eldest son-in-law. Chinese tradition says that sons-in-law are “half sons.” One son-in-law plays a representative role in the funeral; Pa also followed the coffin to the gravesite, but the other sons-in-law stayed at the house entertaining the guests.

When we were all dressed, the children and grandchildren of each of Grandma Chu’s children arrayed themselves in ranks with the elder who linked them to Grandma Chu. We lined up inside the house, to the side of the tent. As we were dressing, the musicians had been playing, and the invited guests had been coming in to fill up the benches. There were both a Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest to conduct the rituals. The coffin was carried by the sons and grandsons in a sling out to the center area and placed in front of the altar on trestles. There was still quite a bit of open space in the center of the tent between the coffin and the audience where each rank of progeny would perform their ritual good-byes. As the token Christians, we were all handed wreaths to place before the coffin when our turn came.

A grandson in a mob-cap-style hat with a Taoist icon before the funeral altar and funeral musician from Note the Taoist priests in the background. Note the white tennis shoes.

At the auspicious hour, the music softened a hair, and the Buddhist monk and Taoist priest began their rituals. Then Eldest Maternal Uncle and Eldest Maternal Male Cousin came out and performed the first ritual family sacrifice to Grandma Chu. It was all in Hakka, but Ma and my sisters-in-law told me that they were asking Grandma Chu’s spirit to pass on to the next realm where she could protect the family. They also told her where her grave would be and what arrangements had been made for her. Next Pa performed the rites on behalf of the sons-in-law. They were much shorter; he was introduced by the master of ceremonies, and came forward to burn incense and bow before the coffin. The Eldest Son and Grandson had actually kow-towed three times at the end of their ritual. Pa did not need to do that.

Eldest Maternal Uncle, Eldest Maternal Male Cousin, and Pa all stood to the street side of the coffin to oversee the rest of the rites. The master of ceremonies called Eldest Maternal Uncle’s Wife and children to come say their ritual good-byes. The first of our ranks-in-waiting filed into the middle area where they burned incenses, wept, and bowed to the coffin and Grandma Chu’s picture. Second Maternal Uncle had passed away in his forties, but his wife, children, and grandchildren came out next to say their good-byes. And so it went through the families of all six of Grandma Chu’s sons who had survived to adulthood. When they had finished their good-byes, they moved to the street side and back of the tent to stand respectfully.

Next, came the families of the daughters. Eldest Maternal Aunt led her children and grandchildren to say their good-byes. Then it was our turn. Yuni and I flanked Ma as her eldest son and daughter-in-law. My sisters-in-law led my girls so that I could support Ma as she walked. We laid our wreaths before the coffin and stood with bowed heads in silent prayer for a few minutes before Yuni prayed aloud to Jesus in Hakka. Then we moved back, and Third Maternal Aunt led her family forward. All five of the Grandma Chu’s daughters came forward with their children and grandchildren to say good-bye.

We stood around at the back of the tent while one of Third Maternal Uncle’s friends from the Lions Club gave a eulogy. Then a county official spoke because it was a “happy occasion” funeral. Finally, the guests filed forward to burn incense and pay their respects to the deceased by burning incense (joss sticks) before the coffin. The musicians kept up their cacophony and at the end the Buddhist monk and Taoist priest each said a concluding prayer. Then, we moved to the next stage of the funeral.

At the appointed hour, Grandma Chu’s sons, grandsons, and Pa with the help of the coffin maker’s factotums placed the coffin on a hand-cart bier, and we began the funeral cortege procession. The men of the family pushed the coffin up the street for about a quarter of a mile, while the women and children walked behind weeping loudly and holding their hoods over their faces.

Children and grandchildren at a funeral walking in the cortege

A quarter of a mile up the street from Third Maternal Uncle’s house there is a large highway that goes out to the remote areas where the graveyards are. There were two buses for family members and numerous flower cars. The coffin was put onto the largest flower car with Grandma Chu’s portrait on the top. Flower cars are trucks with flowered panel superstructures and flower wreaths on the grille. They are used for funerals. The musicians were in the first flower car leading the way. Then, came the flower car with the coffin. Next was the flower car with the sons, eldest grandson, and eldest son-in-law. Then there was an open truck with two chairs in it. The eldest great-grandson sat on one chair dressed in his blue outfit, and the eldest great-granddaughter sat on the other chair dressed in bright red. The eldest great-granddaughter was about five, but the great-grandson was only two or three. The great-granddaughter was charged with making sure that he did not fall off the chair onto the road. Then there was a flower car with grandsons, and finally there were the two buses with all the women and children, and the grandsons who did not fit into the flower car. Each of the flower cars had pink flowers in the grille wreath among the white and yellow chrysanthemums, and there were red and white striped lanterns hanging from the four corners of the truck with the coffin. Ma told me that the striped lanterns and the two youngest generations sitting side-by-side proclaimed to viewers in the know that this was a “fake five generations” with a nephew of the fifth generation. If it had been a niece, the lanterns would have been white and pink. If there had been a great-great-grandchild in the family, the lanterns would have been solid red.

The cortege processed slowly along the edge of the highway out to the gravesite. We were in the second bus, and by the time we got up to the grave, the coffin was already in the ground, and the sons and grandsons were filling in the dirt. Later, Pa told us that the coffin had almost fallen off the sling towards him, and he had guided it into the ground. He took this as a sign that Grandma Chu was acknowledging his attempt to say good-bye and his participation in the funeral rites. He was quite happy. Once the coffin was covered with earth, the family members came forward in twos and threes and burned incense. Daughters and their descendants did not participate in the incense burning, as they were not of the Chu clan. After all the incense had been burned, we took off our “filial piety” robes on the dirt road next to the grave. The robes were only basted together, and we had to pull out all the threads and be sure the clothes were merely pieces of cloth before we left the grave area. If we went back in “filial piety” robes to the bus, we were told it would attract Grandma Chu’s spirit, and she would not rest in peace. This would bring us all kinds of bad luck. The Maternal Uncles’ wives collected all the cloth and said they planned to make underwear for the family for many years to come. Pa said that underwear made from funeral robe linen was one of the most comfortable things to wear in the summer.

The flower cars went back to the funeral parlor, so we had to pile everyone into the already crowded buses. The buses whipped us quickly back to Third Maternal Uncle’s house where the last guests were just leaving after eating a huge feast. Before the members of the family could eat, the Maternal Uncles each took one of the funeral photos of Grandma Chu and placed it on the family altars. Several of the Maternal Uncles live in Toufen within blocks of each other, and they all ran home to install the photos before coming back for lunch. Once the photo was installed, three cups of wine and some food were placed before it. Then the uncle and his family burned incense and bowed before the picture in his own home.

Since we were progeny of a daughter, we just sat at the tables and ate hungrily. Third Maternal Uncle had a friend from the Lions Club who was a videographer. He made a tape of the funeral, and Yuni and I were given a betamax video tape. Betamax video players soon went the way of the dodo bird, and we were only able to watch the tape once. Many years later, when we tried to get it converted, we were told that the tape had molded, and the images were lost. We did not get any photos, either. The girls were so cute in their bright red “filial piety” robes. They looked like little stars in period TV dramas set in the Tang Dynasty.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Aloha from Waikiki

Just a quick post to say that I have been in Hawaii for the past five days. I leave in a minute, but I couldn't resist the title. I was attending the Association for Asian Studies National Conference where my professor and I presented the revised version of the paper that we had presented in Singapore. The presentation went well, and I learned a lot at the conference.

I have been staying at the Ilikai, which is the hotel featured in the opening credits of the original version of Hawaii 5-0. I am on the 25th floor just under the penthouse with a great view of the mountains. I didn't want to pay an extra $30 per night for views of the ocean that can be seen when I leave the hotel.

I was able to meet blogger buddy Cloudia Charters one evening just before sunset for a walk along the boardwalk of Waikiki (bad knees and white sands do not do well together, as I found out my first day here). Cloudia lives on a boat in the marina near my hotel, which was where the filmed the opening credits for Gilligan's Island. In cyberspace, her address is: She always has amazing pictures and great inspirational quotes. Cloudia took a few pictures of me, since I have no camera. And here they are.

The top one is from the balcony of my hotel looking back to a rainbow in that dark cloud over the mountains. The bottom one is at the beach looking out towards Diamond Head.

So now it is time for me to power down the laptop, check out, and head for the airport to return to the grind of being a grad student. I have class tomorrow, and I have to do all the readings for it on the plane because I was not really in homework mode this past week... It was a great spring break!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Traditional Funeral--Hakka Style: Part One, the Pre-Cortege Proceedings

In July we received a phone call from Pa that Grandma Chu had passed away. It was very important to him that we all go back for the funeral. First, because the family had been saying that since Yuni was in the US, he would throw away his family traditions and no longer care for the ancestors. The Chinese idea of filial piety grew up out of funerary rites and ancestor worship that began as early as the late Neolithic Era in China (see Keightley, David. “Early Civilization in China: Reflections on how it became Chinese.” In Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization. Ed. Parul S. Ropp. Berkeley: California University Press, 1990. 15-54). Today in contemporary Taiwan, even if children have moved far away from their parents for job opportunities, they MUST return to attend the funerals or face condemnation for being unfilial.

Strictly speaking, as grandchildren from a daughter, we did not need to return as a family to attend Grandma Chu’s funeral because Chinese funeral rites focus mainly on the patrilineal descendants. The Chu grandchildren are more important in the funeral rituals than the “outside” grandchildren of a married daughter. But, we had taken Grandma Chu to the US and to Japan, and she frequently spent the weekend with Ma in our home. She was the one who had paid for my wedding rings because the Liu family was too poor. Pa spoke quite persuasively that we really needed to attend, both out of respect for the memory of Grandma Chu and to silence any talk among the maternal uncles that Yuni was becoming Americanized to the extent that he had forgotten his roots. And, of course, it would give both sides of the family great face to have an American wearing mourning robes and walking among the relatives.

Yuni and I both felt we needed to go, but he had not been getting many big jobs, and we had just finished our big trip up the East Coast. I had just bought a ton of homeschooling books. July is the most expensive month for travel to and from Asia, and we needed to get the tickets within the week to make it in time for at least some of the rituals prior to the day of the funeral cortege. Fei lent us the money for the trip. It cost $3000 for round-trip tickets for a family of five. We decided to stay for three weeks because that made the tickets a little cheaper, but not much.

Ma called me the day after Yuni called to tell Pa our flight details. She said that the girls and I could not wear colors, only black, blue, grey, and white. She kept saying “plain” clothes. So I went out and bought the girls some cute clothes in navy and white. One outfit had polka dots. When we got there, I learned that plain also meant no patterns. The girls could wear black shorts and a white blouse or a navy skirt and a grey top, but they could not have any bright colors or any patterns. Fortunately, the aunts loved shopping. Each aunt contributed a “mourning” outfit, and the kids were quite well set up for all the activities.

We drove from Chungli down to Toufen as soon as we were all appropriately dressed. Pa was already down there helping with things because Eldest Maternal Aunt’s husband was in the hospital himself, and the eldest son-in-law plays an important role in Hakka funerals. Grandma Chu’s coffin was lying in state in the front room of Third Maternal Uncle’s home. There was a brightly colored blanket covering it. There were stacks and stacks of canned goods in pyramids around the coffin and out onto the sidewalk. These cans were gifts from relatives and business associates and friends of the maternal uncles. There were plastic flower (white and yellow) wreaths all along the street. In the center of each wreath there was a calligraphy condolence message. Streamers hung down from the wreaths with the names of the givers. The wreaths were set up on bamboo easels. Third Maternal Uncle had rented a large tent and put it over one lane of the road in front of his house. The tent was stuffed with more canned goods, flower wreaths, and banners hung down on white cloth with condolence messages.

A picture from of a funeral tent with the stacks of cans. This funeral is also a "happy occasion" as can be noted from the pink streamers.

The maternal uncles and aunts were sitting with the coffin in the front room. As guests came to pay their respects, they would cry and wail. The guests would tell them to not be so sad because Grandma Chu had lived to a ripe old age. She had a great-great-grandnephew of the fifth generation on the Chu side of the family, so her funeral was considered a “happy” occasion. The uncles and aunts did not cry uncontrollably, but they did cry. Pa and the other sons-in-law were charged with seeing to the guests and writing down which gift came from which person. Yuni, as a maternal grandson, was drafted to help with this. All the wives of grandsons were at work in the kitchen producing copious amounts of food with which to feed the people coming to pay respects. There were a number of tables under the tent where people who came would sit and eat snacks. It was pretty chaotic. A funeral band (think Peking opera band on steroids) was grinding out very harsh music in one corner of the tent. At about 5 pm, a Taoist priest came to read Taoist rites of the dead. Third Maternal Uncle had hired both Buddhist monks and Taoist priests to come and read their death rites every evening that the coffin lay in state. When the Taoist priest began his rituals, the non-family members left. The rest of us just stood respectfully behind the priest as he did his thing. It was all done in Hakka, so I really didn’t understand much of it. Plus, I had to keep the three girls quiet and respectful at the back of the room. Fortunately, we were grandchildren from a daughter, and our place was in the back anyway.

When the rites were over, the grandsons’ wives brought out dinner for the family, and we all began to eat. Grandma Chu had a total of twelve children. There were several tables full of people eating. As we were eating, I learned that the cortege and burial would take place the following day. We did not return to Chungli. Instead, we stayed with Eldest Sister in Toufen. Before we left Third Maternal Uncle’s home, we tried on the funeral robes for the kids. They were to play the part of fifth generation boys since the nephew was too young to attend the funeral. Ma said that since it was just a nephew and since Grandma Chu was 80 when she passed away, the family was doing a “fake five generations funeral.” Ma said that she would explain the differences to me. Since we did not need to drive back to Chungli, we sat around with Third Maternal Uncle, while the entire family related the story of Grandma Chu’s passing. It was a story that legends are made of…. And the legend has been retold many, many times over the past eighteen years.

Ma started talking about how Grandma Chu had been so ill and had been in the hospital for weeks. Her stomach was distended and she was not able to eat. She knew her end was near, and she asked that Ma be one of the primary caregivers for her in the hospital because Ma was her favorite daughter. Pa had driven Ma down to Toufen and stayed for a day, but then he had to go back to work. In the hospital, Grandma Chu had been concerned because some of her gold jewelry had gone missing. She thought that one of her grandsons’ wives had taken it on a caretaking shift. She felt that Ma and her daughters would be more reliable. She also wanted to find out if she could get baptized as a Christian.

Grandma Chu had been seriously interested in being Christian since our trip to the US because we had undertaken the trip during the Taiwanese “ghost month,” and yet, nothing had happened to us. She was healthier when she got back than when she had started. Ma had taught her that she could pray to Jesus in a very informal way. She liked it that she didn’t need to worry about learning to read. One morning after our return from the US, Grandma Chu had gone walking alone in a park near her house. She fell and could not get up. First, she tried praying to Buddha, but that didn’t work. Then she tried some of the other deities in the traditional Chinese pantheon that are usually considered Taoist. She still couldn’t get up. Finally, she prayed to Jesus, and strength was restored to her legs. She had asked her sons to arrange a baptism for her, but they did not do this as her conversion at the matriarchal stage would entail a mass family conversion, and her sons felt that they needed to participate in rituals to the gods of money and luck in their business endeavors. Every major project that they took on with their businesses started with offerings to the gods; if they suddenly stopped doing those rituals, they felt that their workers and business associates would be uncomfortable working with them. So Grandma Chu stopped eating foods that had been offered to idols in such rituals and began praying to Jesus every day. Now that she was on her deathbed, she wanted to be baptized. Ma had Eldest Sister bring in a preacher to the hospital, but the doctors would not allow Grandma Chu to be baptized by immersion. The preacher had suggested a sprinkling ritual, but since Ma and all her children had been baptized by immersion, they felt that sprinkling might not work. In the end, the preacher prayed with Grandma Chu and confirmed that she was a genuine Christian.

A few days after this, Grandma Chu began to fail. The doctors notified her sons that they should bring her home for her final hours. Third Maternal Uncle brought her home and sent out the call for all the children and grandchildren to gather around her deathbed. Everyone had come, except for Pa. He had been working in a place without mobile phone signal, and one of his daughters had had to ride a motor scooter to notify him. He dropped everything and rushed down to Toufen. Grandma Chu kept holding on, her children were worried and didn’t know what she was waiting for. Finally, Pa crossed the threshold of the home and began running up to the bedroom calling (in Japanese): “Mother, Mother.” People around the bed told Grandma Chu that her favorite son-in-law had arrived. Upon hearing the news, she closed her eyes, and died. Pa was heartbroken that he had not been able to say good–bye, but he was also honored that he was the one she was holding on for. Grandma Chu’s youngest grandson, who was five at the time and about six months older than the twins, came running in shortly after she expired shouting that two men in white had taken his grandmother up to the skies. He had been playing with a ball in front of the house when Pa had arrived. He was tossing the ball up in the air and catching it. On one toss, he said he had seen two men in shining white robes taking his grandmother up to the skies. He dropped his ball and came running into the house to see why his grandmother was leaving him. He threw himself on her corpse crying. Grandma Chu was his principal babysitter in the family, and they had a very special bond. Everyone decided that 1) a five year old could not make up things like this because he did not have sufficient knowledge, 2) this proved that Grandma Chu had successfully converted to Christianity because angels had come to take her to heaven, and 3) the death was something of a miracle. The five-year old cousin was trotted out to testify again to what he had seen at the moment of Grandma Chu’s death. Yuni and I confirmed that according to the Bible, Grandma Chu’s conversion had been genuine despite her lack of baptism and that her death did seem to hold miraculous aspects.

Ma and her siblings were quite relieved to have their conclusions validated by the expert Christians in the family. They then moved on to discussing the funeral arrangements. Since Grandma Chu seemed to have died a Christian, her sons wanted some Christian element to the funeral. They themselves were not Christian, and they wanted all the other trappings of an elaborate traditional funeral to express their filial piety and to gain face for the family. But filial piety demanded that they also acknowledge their mother’s apparent belief in Christianity. Ma and her children were all baptized Christians, so when it was our time to pay our respects before the coffin at the ceremony before the cortege began, we would not burn incense like the rest. We would lay wreaths before the coffin and stand praying silently. Then Yuni, as Ma’s eldest son and first Christian of the family, would pray Christian prayers out loud in Hakka asking for Jesus to care for Grandma Chu’s soul and to bless the entire Chu family. The maternal uncles were so happy that we cared enough about the family to come back to Taiwan to help with the funeral. There had been arguments among Ma and her siblings as to whether or not a stripper should be hired to perform at the funeral. Ma and Third Maternal Uncle were against it, but a few of the younger Maternal Uncles thought it would help attract a good crowd and prove their filial piety. Our contribution of Christian prayers combined with the return of an entire family of an "outside" grandson with a Caucasian wife to participate meant that the funeral would be unique and did not need a stripper to up the ante. Ma was thoroughly relieved. In the end, the uncles decided that because so many family members were present, they would NOT hire any singers or professional mourners, either. The family was large and had true filial piety that could not be bought. This would gain them more face than just an expensive funeral with many hired mourners and performers.

Since all the plans were in place, we went back to Eldest Sister’s house to sleep a short while before the next day’s funeral rites, funeral procession, and burial. The next day was going to be a tiring day.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

We Begin Homeschooling

Well, I had thought I would be back to blogging sooner, but life happens. The grad student conference was an amazing experience for all involved. The magic happened, and everyone’s hard work paid off. It was better than our best case scenario. All the papers were as interesting as their abstracts had promised. All the discussants were well-prepared. There was way too much food, good coffee, and great teas. The discussions after the panels were lively and went on into the break room. And the DVDs were great. I highly recommend “The Persian Rite of Spring.” I also highly recommend the Chinese movie “Shower.” We were blessed at the end of the last panel by a performance of a traditional Thai dance of benediction, performed by one of the grad students in our English department. And she was really good!

Peace reading a book at Grandma R's apartment

So to get back to life when my kids were young…

After returning from Florida, we bought a guinea pig named Snuggles and a bunch of school books. We got the K4 curriculum for the twins and the 2 and 3 year old preschool books for Peace. The aunts sent preschool books from Taiwanese preschools and flashcards of the phonetic symbols that kids learn to help them learn to read.

I had read so much and learned so much from other homeschool mothers that I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to create a rich environment and give it a touch of structure just a few hours a day, but mainly I wanted to make life a learning experience. So every day around 10, we would “do school.” We would sing some songs in English and Chinese, do a few pages in each of the books, learn some Chinese, and read stories together. The twins took off scholastically. Love learned to read in the books with large type. She was quite happy.

After school, we would all do chores. The girls would dust with me, and we would take turns vacuuming and sweeping. It made things fun. They learned to care for Snuggles, and to clean up if she was out of the cage too long and made a mess. Soon we got a rabbit named Fluffy for free. He was an Angora, who had been turned in at a rabbit farm where we went for a family field trip after Yuni returned from Florida. Fluffy was an outdoor rabbit for the most part, but on rainy days, the girls would bring him into the family room.

We all rode the bus together and continued our habit of visiting the zoo, the aquarium, the Science Center, and the Children’s Museum at least once a month. These places had many wonderful classes for preschoolers, and we had many a great time doing art classes at the Children’s Museum and science classes at the other places. We hatched painted lady butterflies for one class. We made plaster casts of animal paw prints for another.

We began to do “school” in April and by September when the twins should have gone to kindergarten, they were already half way through the first grade books. They had done K4 and K5 in four short months. We did have a bit of a problem over the summer because when we got into the small print books, Love couldn’t read any more. One day on a trip to the park, we found an education fair at the local shopping mall. There were free eye tests. We found out that she had a lazy eye and needed glasses. Once she was fitted out with glasses, her reading abilities returned. The eye doctor was amazing and persuaded Love that she needed to do her eye exercises and wear her patch faithfully. Love solemnly began her quest for good vision. She would remind me if I forgot. Her patch had a pretty rainbow covering the good eye, so that the lazy eye would learn to see.

Peace was not terribly interested in school at first. She liked coloring in the books, and she loved listening to the stories, but she was much more interested in packing her books into her very pregnant backpack and carrying it around the house with her cowboy hat on her head. All her treasures were neatly stowed, and they went every place with her. It was a terribly heavy backpack for such a little girl, but she was very strong and sturdy. And she loved having her possessions on her back at all times.

I usually read chapter books to the girls because I had read that it was best for them to hear stories several grade levels ahead to improve their passive vocabularies. We went through the Little House books. They loved them, and frequently after “school” was over, they would play their own versions of the stories. They had a wagon that they pulled around the backyard as they trekked across our local “prairie.”

Some of the education experts I read stated that during the preschool and early elementary years, children process information by playing. It is good when they act out what they have heard in a story or when they line up their stuffed animals and teach them to color and read. We did not turn on the TV until after Yuni came home in the evening. The girls had to amuse themselves during the day. The three of them were always quite busy; they had picture books, toys, art supplies, and simple musical instruments to aid them in their play. And they played quite happily. Truth always refers to that time period as the happiest days of her childhood.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why I've Been AWOL from Blogging

February was the Student Research Competition

Now we're working on getting the finishing touches of our Asian Studies Grad Student Conference put together before 3/18.

Then at the end of March and beginning of April, I will be in Hawaii for the Association of Asian Studies Conference, Session 418.

I just finished my first mid-term portfolio on Early Chinese Culture, including Confucianism, Daoism, and the evolution of civilization and government. Tuesday I have a mid-term presentation for the class entitled: "Is There a Confucian Revival in Contemporary China?"

Confucius now stands on Tiananmen Square next to Mao Zedong's mausoleum.

I have to present a different paper on 3/19 from the one I could present in Singapore, at the CSU research competition, and in Hawaii, because I co-authored that paper with one of my professors, who will be a discussant for our conference. So I am tweaking my final paper from the Asian Studies seminar last semester: "The Hot and Sensitive K-pop Hero: A Contemporary Re-mix of Ideal Neo-Confucian Masculinity?" I have done a lot of research on Neo-Confucian ideals for masculinity while working on my thesis. I am not so familiar with Korea and Korean pop culture, and I have been doing research beyond what we learned in the seminar last fall so that I will be able to answer questions after presenting the paper. I have also been working on my power point for that presentation.

Gotta love the always hot and very sensitive K-pop sensation Rain!!

Now I have to find a 10-15 page scholarly article in Chinese on Jin Yong, the martial arts novelist whose opus is the subject of my thesis. I have to translate 3 pages before May 1st and upload them with my application for a summer translation workshop in Shanghai, sponsored by the Confucius Institute. The problem so far is that all the articles I have found are either 4-6 pages or more than 40 pages. There just does not seem to be a happy medium in Chinese scholarly journals.

I have the whole outline of my next post blocked out in my head. I just have not had the time to get it fully written. I had set aside time this weekend, but on Friday my professors sent me the link to the translation workshop and told me that I really needed to apply... And the best laid plans of mice, men, and Teresa went out the window as I spent hours searching for a 10-15 page Chinese article... I will do my best to make time during the week.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family Road Trip

My dad took the girls and me to the airport. For the first time, I took three little girls alone on the plane. We flew non-stop to Miami. Yuni was there at the airport to meet us. We stayed in the home of one of Yuni’s customers. It was all fixed up, but they were still in their alternate housing, so we had a whole house to ourselves. Even though we were in Miami six months after the hurricane, the streets were still piled high with debris. Some of the houses in the cul-de-sac were inhabited, some were partly repaired, and others were still completely ruined.

We spent a day or two in Miami meeting the people whose houses Yuni had helped repair and visiting the places he had scoped out during his time there. He had been working six days every week and had not really done any sightseeing, so he only knew how to take us to the beach. He had a van and we headed north on our first family road trip.

We visited friends in Orlando and took the kids to Disney World. Then we visited Lynne in Atlanta where we saw Stone Mountain and the Coca Cola bottling plant. We went to up to DC where we visited our friends from church, Cousin Brian’s family, and the pandas at the National Zoo. The twins turned five while we were in DC, and Cousin Brian took us all to Chuck E. Cheese’s for a party. It created a dangerous precedent.

From DC we went north to Philadelphia where we met my mother’s cousins. They had a parrot named DB (Dumb Bird) that had the run of the house. The kids were entranced. We also visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but I think the parrot was more interesting to the children. From Philly we headed up to Connecticut to visit my brother Tom. He took us to Mystic Seaport. It is a living history museum with people in period costume working and doing the normal activities of people in a seaport around the time of the American Revolution. The girls thoroughly enjoyed it.

On the way back, we went to a number of other living history museums. There was one in Virginia with a number of different colonial farmhouses, each in the style of immigrants from different countries. We also went to Williamsburg. We stayed with friends of friends from church. They homeschooled their children, and their son played the piano and harpsichord. The night we arrived he was giving a harpsichord concert in one of the halls in Williamsburg. We all attended. It was fascinating. We spent another two days there, and every evening, I had long conversations with the mother about homeschooling. It seemed that it could be a feasible option, especially if there were resources in the community that gave the kids opportunities for enrichment. The second day we were touring Williamsburg, the daughter of our hosts was in a sewing circle in one of the mansions. The girls were so excited to be in on the secret.

When we got back down to Miami, we did more sightseeing based on my guide books. We went to Sea World and the Everglades. The highlight of the Everglades was an airboat ride where the guide fed marshmallows to the alligators. I expect that the alligators in the Everglades all have rotted teeth.

We were on the road a little more than a week. The girls and I went back to Seattle first, while Yuni finished up a job or two before coming back himself. Upon his return he began to set up his own business. Business was quite slow. The first month he had one half-day job and earned less than $100. Of course, we had spent what he thought was surplus on our great trip. I continued with my translation and took on more students. By the next month, more work came in and things got better and better, but we had a tense time of it for about six weeks.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Year of the Metal Rabbit

Today is Chinese New Year’s Eve. In less than two hours, it will be the Year of the Metal Rabbit. The Chinese horoscope says that the year of the rabbit is a welcome respite after the tribulations of last year’s Year of the Tiger. I have also read that because this year is a Metal Rabbit, it carries a little bit more of a kick than an ordinary year of the rabbit.

This lunar year begins tomorrow, February 3, and ends January 22, 2012. Since the new year falls before February 4, it is considered a lucky year for romance and marriage. It is also a good year for endurance and creativity. The rabbit energy likes comfort and serenity in its surroundings. The metal energy implies courage to face the changes in the world around you. And rabbit years are supposed to be good for healing. They are also supposed to be relaxed and more easy-going than other years. It may be a year to forget the rules!!

People who are born in the year of the rabbit are supposed to have temperaments like rabbits. They are serene and easy-going. They are peaceable, sensitive, and creative. They like to be around other people, but they do not like conflict. They love their homes, and their homes are usually well-kept and nicely decorated. My mother is a rabbit, and this description seems to fit her.

In Chinese mythology, the Rabbit is related to the moon. Some Chinese see a hare in the moon with the elixir of immortality in his hands. The moon represents the power of Yin, which is dark, secret, and passive. People born in the year of the rabbit tend to be lucky naturally. Their business deals tend to go well without much effort. Rabbit years are supposed to be lucky for pretty much everyone, as the luck of the moon and the rabbit rub off on all. So many Chinese horoscopes warn people not to get too lax in the year of the rabbit.

On New Year’s Eve, Chinese tradition says that each household should finish their spring cleaning before the evening meal. Everyone in the family puts on new clothes before dinner—preferably bright red clothes. They all eat together in the biggest family get-together of the year. Dinner consists of many special dishes like dried meat, sausages, different kinds of rice cakes, and always there is fish. Everyone eats a little of the fish, but there has to be fish left over at the end of the meal. This means that the family will be prosperous and will have abundance to spare at the end of the year. After dinner, unmarried people get red envelopes of money from the married people. Once you are married, you are expected to grow up and contribute. Before you are married, you can relax and enjoy the bounty of the family. After you get old and your children are married, they give you red envelopes, too.

And everyone says: 恭喜發財,紅包拿來! Then you get a red envelope like the one here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts about Homeschooling and Tiger Mothers

In my last episode of the story of our family, Yuni was in Miami, and I was babysitting, tutoring, and translating while running the household and caring for the kids in our new house in Bellevue.

About a year before we moved out of Seattle, Truth began spontaneously reading the captions under pictures in her coloring books. By the time we were in Bellevue, she could read quite well. Love got quite worried that something was wrong because she could not read like her twin; she began begging me to put her into school.

I started looking into preschool programs near us. I really liked a Montessori school, but it was a Cadillac plan with a Cadillac cost. There was no way we could afford to have one kid in school there, much less three. I checked into the Head’s Up preschools near us, but they were comparatively far away, and I did not want to put the kids into them unless I was forced to. After talking to my friends, I learned that many of them were not satisfied with the public schools near us, even though we were living in one of the best school districts in the country. A number of my Asian friends were spending hours after school giving their kids extra homework so that they would not be behind their cousins in Japan or Malaysia or Taiwan. So those children were going to school from 8:30 to 3; after they came home, their mothers had them do their 30 minutes of American homework, and then they did MORE homework. Some of the mothers got textbooks from their home countries and used them. Others ordered textbooks from a homeschool curriculum company and had their kids do the exercises in them in addition to what they were doing in their American elementary school classes.

One week, when Yuni called, I discussed the matter with him. He was concerned about the fact that the Asian mothers thought American schools were not on a par with the schooling in Asia because part of our master plan was to shuttle back and forth between the US and Asia. We were planning to take the kids back for upper-level elementary school and junior high in Taiwan. If they were behind in subjects like math and history, there was no way they would be able to handle the transition. Yuni told me to keep doing research.

One of the mothers using the homeschool curriculum lent me the product catalog. The content and methods seemed pretty good, and they had books for two and three year olds so that younger siblings could do school, too. But I could not see having my kids do six hours of school and then another three to four hours of extra work on top of their school day. I wanted my kids to have a great education, and I wanted them to be able to keep up with their cousins in Asia, but I also wanted them to have fun.

One of our weekly field trip destinations was the library’s preschool story time. We always checked out piles and piles of books. While the kids were getting their story books, I went to the non-fiction section and got some books on homeschooling. I read lots and lots of them. And the more I read, the more I thought that teaching the kids might really work for us. We could keep them bi-lingual, use a “Cadillac” curriculum package, and my kids would not have to spend nine or ten hours a day on schoolwork when they were just in elementary school. We could also take our vacations when plane fares were cheapest. With five fare-paying passengers to Taiwan, that was a huge consideration.

On the negative side, I would not be able to get a regular job. Yuni would have to support the family almost single-handedly. I would only be able to do my tutoring and translating and maybe a little babysitting. At that point, I didn’t order any text books, but I did get all the information together so Yuni and I could go over everything after he came home from Miami.

Then in the next phone call, Yuni dropped a bombshell… He had sent plane tickets for me and the girls. We would meet him in Miami; one of his customers worked at a rent-a-car company and would get us a great deal on a rental van. We would drive the van up the East Coast to see my brother in Connecticut and visit a number of friends and other relatives along the way. He said that he had made lots of money, and in addition to what he had deposited for me, he had amassed a pile of cash for our vacation. He was also sure there would be plenty left over so that he could start his own business when he got back. He had informed the boss of his old company that he would not be going back to work there. … So I began packing for our trip to the East Coast.

As I was drafting this post, I read Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal about Asian tiger mothers. It reminded me of my Asian friends who kept their kids going for hours and hours a day. I don’t know if my kids would consider me a tiger mother. I certainly had high expectations of them, but I think that the focus of her method is that the mother works through things with her kids until they arrive at the standard she has set for them. I certainly practiced that while my kids were growing up. I did, however, try to give them enough time for free play because all the books I read on cognitive development and learning stages said that preschool and early elementary school children learn through their play. The strength of the Montessori Method is that the children are in a “rich” environment with many attractive, educational toys, and the adults facilitate the learning aspects of their play. The children are also expected to pick up after themselves and handle the responsibilities appropriate for their ages.

I am adding the links to the WSJ article and Chua’s interview with Stephen Colbert. I read on a Chinese news blog that in China her book is being marketed as the work of an overseas Chinese. The Chinese title is something like “Parenting in America.” So the mainland Chinese, at least, are not embracing the idea of the tiger mothers. I can’t really make any more comments, as I have not read Chua’s book, and that won’t happen until summer break.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Conference in Singapore

My professor still hasn't forwarded me the pictures of the sightseeing we did, but she did write a letter to the deans and my department chair giving a report of our trip and thanking them for the funding. She attached a few photos. So today's post consists of excerpts from her letter and her photos. (I really have to get my own camera before I take another trip.)

Dear XXX, XXX, XXX, and XXX:

Amidst all of the enrollment/scheduling madness we’re in, I thought
I’d share some positive news.

I just returned from Singapore and Hong Kong with AAAS M.A. student
Teresa Zimmerman-Liu. It was an extremely stimulating and productive
trip, and we want to express our gratitude to the Dean’s office and
AAAS for the financial support that made our trip possible.

On January 8, we presented our co-authored paper, entitled “Making
Sense of China’s State-Society Relations: Protestant House Churches in
the Reform Era,” at a conference on “Christianity in Contemporary
China: Socio-Cultural Perspectives,” sponsored by Nanyang
Technological University in Singapore. It was an exclusive conference,
with about 20 participants in attendance, and roughly 20 invited
members in the audience. Participants included scholars from across
the globe, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, Taiwan,
England, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United
States. The keynote speakers were accomplished senior scholars
Richard Madsen (Chair and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at
UCSD) and Peter Tze Ming Ng (Director of the Centre for the Study of
Religion and Chinese Society at the Chinese University of Hong Kong).
The conference organizer, Francis Khek Gee Lim, plans to compile a
subset of the presented papers in an edited volume that he hopes will
be published within the next eighteen months or so. We are quite
hopeful that our paper will be included in the volume.

Following the conference, we traveled to Hong Kong, where we conducted
interviews that will further our research. Perhaps our most well-known
interview subject was Han Dongfang. Mr. Han was the most prominent
worker activist to assume a leadership role during the 1989 “Tiananmen
Square Movement.” After surviving prison following the June 4, 1989
massacre, Mr. Han returned to Hong Kong to continue his activism to
promote labor rights in China. Through his Hong Kong-based
organization, the China Labour Bulletin, Mr. Han hosts a weekly
call-in radio show that is broadcast into mainland China via Radio
Free Asia. He is known world-wide as China’s most influential labor
activist. Along with our interviews, while in Hong Kong we discussed
our current and future research with faculty at the Divinity School of
Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In case you’re interested, a few pictures are attached. They are: (1)
us with conference organizer Francis Khek Gee Lim (Associate
Professor, Department of Sociology, Nanyang Technological University);
(2) us with the other conference participants; (3) us with Han
Dongfang; (4) us with Lung-kwon Lo (Director) and Tobias Brandner
(Assistant Professor), Divinity School of Chung Chi College, Chinese
University of Hong Kong.

We deeply appreciate the support of the Dean’s Office and AAAS in this
endeavor. It was an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience.

Our next stop is the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian
Studies in early April, where we will be presenting a revised version
of our paper.