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.  


Cloudia said...

I must say that I find Yuni's sentiment very understandable.

Warm Aloha from Waikiki;

Comfort Spiral

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Teresa said...

I did too, especially at the time. But later, after I heard more of my dad's side of the story, I understood both my dad and Yuni. It was really a matter of clashing cultures. And the entire situation contributed to Yuni's disillusionment with America.