To enjoy a state-of-the-art library and a huge tranquil park seemed satisfactory enough for a newcomer to this city, but I soon discovered another one-of-a kind facility — the indoor Olympic Swimming Pool and Fitness center. When I was informed that in 1984, the Olympic Game swimmers practiced here, I felt the pride of being a part of a world class phenomenon. At the edge of the pool, there was a high diving board. It almost reached the high ceiling and looked intimidating. The fancy pool brought my memory back to the days when I watched the games on TV at a flat in Taipei, and how I marveled at the athletes’ amazing speed and power. Excitedly, I enrolled Anelise into the beginner class.

I had a phobia of deep water myself, so I could imagine how water could be as scary as a monster to a child. Anelise had never swum before; in fact, she couldn’t take a overhead shower in fear of water hurting her eyes. To accommodate her, I had always skillfully shampooed her hair, making sure her face was dry throughout. Now, I was determined to get her ready for the lesson. It was time to quit baby baths! I started to train her: I would spray water on her face and dip her face into water in a basin. I tried to get her to take overhead showers in a baby shower cap. Nothing worked. She screamed, fought, and cried. Taking a shower became our nightmares. Our prelude lessons failed, but the real lesson couldn’t wait.

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The first class went like this: the coach ordered ten little kids to put on lifejackets and walked them toward the diving board. All the moms sat on the bleachers, watching and smiling. On my face there was a smile, but in my mind I worried about why they needed lifejackets. “It’s for safety, because they are all first time swimmers,” I explained to myself. These little puff-chested, frog-like kids quickly tip-toed to the other end of the pool, their bodies shaking from the cold. They passed the low diving board and kept going. When they reached the high diving board, the coach yelled, “Stop!” He pointed to the sky-high board and yelled again, with a wide smile, “Let’s go up there!” The kids erupted in fearful high pitched screaming. My head froze for some seconds in horror. “No! You can’t make her do this!” I screamed in my mind.

I ran to the coach. “Hey, coach, excuse me! I…, I am…. I…,” I almost choked while stuttering through my poor spoken English. “My daughter, she can’t swim! She can’t go up there!” Finally I managed to complete my words. “Oh, don’t worry! She will be fine with the jacket.” The young man smiled at me indifferently. “No, no, no! She can’t go! It is terrible!” I felt tears fill my eyes, although I was still smiling. “It will be okay! No worries!” He ignored me and turned around, yelling, “Let’s go up there! One after another!” The kids stepped up to the stairs in file. Some of them couldn’t wait and rushed up, dropping and making big splashes with excited screams. Another coach scooped them up out of the pool with a long pole. They were shaking heavily but laughing hard. It seemed fun and fine, I told myself. Anelise was the last one in the row. She was shaking and her face was stern. I knew she was terrified, but she was always obedient to the rules. I knew she was restraining her fear, telling herself not to cry or run away in protest. I had an urge to pull her out and walk away, but with a few seconds of internal struggling, I stepped back, with tears in my eyes.

Now it was her turn to go up. She went up slowly, trembling. Finally, she reached the edge of the diving board. She couldn’t jump. The coach came up behind her and bent down to encourage her. There was no response from Anelise. They were up there for a long time. It was a stand off. Tears kept coming out of my eyes. I wanted to yell to the coach, “Let her come down here! Ler her go!” but my throat was tight. Suddenly, the coach gave her a push. Like a stone, she dropped into the water with a big splash. I was shocked. I ran to the side of the pool, Anelise shot up on the surface of the water, floating. She touched the pole extended to her and grabbed it. Up on the ground, smiling despite shaking, she was safe!

The swimming lessons kept going for some weeks and Anelise gradually got used to water. Amazingly, she started enjoying jumping off the diving board. Anelise eventually swam for her school team from fifth grade until high school and competed in high school water polo. From this experience, I realized: all difficulties can be overcome.


那設備高檔的圖書館和寬廣寧靜的公園已經讓我這個新居民感到驚喜萬分了,但不久後我又發現了一個更令人興奮的公共場所,那就是喜瑞都市的市立游泳池和健身館。當我得知這個泳池是為了1984年洛杉磯奧運興建以供選手練習使用的,我更是以能夠置身於一個世界級的設施中感到榮耀。池邊有一個很高的跳水台,它高聳而上,看來很嚇人。這泳池讓我回想起當年住在台北的公寓裡,沈迷著電視的奧運轉播,為泳將們的勁速比賽加油,為他們不斷地打破紀錄而歡呼的情景。一聞知他們開著游泳班,我馬上就為怡安報名上課了。

我自己是個患有深水恐懼症的人,所以很能夠了解孩子們怕水如猛獸的心結。怡安從來沒下過泳池游過泳,更糟的是,她怕水到連洗澡都不能讓水碰到她的臉。她這時已經五歲了,我練就了一個方法,為她洗頭髮時,還能保証水不會沖到她的眼睛裡。為她報名上課後,我決心把這套娃娃澡廢除掉,開始做學前操訓。第一步,拿水往她臉上灑,叫她把臉放到水盆裡。第二步,強迫她沖澡,先戴上一頂娃娃沖澡帽以防水往臉上流。這些招數全無效,她以哭叫反抗。這段時間,洗澡變成我們兩人的惡夢。這學前班完全失敗了,但是正規班可等不得的。

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第一堂課是這麽個上法:課一開始,那個年輕的教練大聲命令這十個小朋友把救生背心穿上,領著他們往跳水台走去。所有的媽媽們都坐在看台上微笑著看著,而我心裡納悶著,為什麼要穿上救生衣?「為了安全吧,都是一群小旱娃娃!」我給自己一個解釋。這組小毛頭孩子個個像隻膨胸鼓腹的小青蛙,蹦著跳著,顫抖著小身子,跟著教練往前走。經過了低跳水台,他們繼續往前走,到了那座高入屋頂的跳台前,教練站定了,回身大吼:「停下來!」他往那高台一指,得意地笑著宣告:「我們要上那兒去!」只聽見娃兒們尖叫起來:「No, no!」我的頭好像凍麻了幾秒鐘,嚇著了。「不行啊!你可不能逼我女兒做這事啊!」我心裡叫了起來。

我衝到教練面前,張口說話:「教練,對不起,我….,我 女兒不會游泳,不能上去…」英文不好,結結巴巴,找不到英文字眼來表達我的意思。好不容易支離破碎地講完了,教練卻一付毫不在乎的樣子,只說:「沒關係,他們都穿著救生衣!不必擔心!」我心裡可急了,暗叫著,不行,不行,這太可怕了!我雖然還露著微笑,卻可以感到眼睛裡充滿了淚水。那教練不管我,回過身去,大叫:「拍成一列,一個一個往上去!」孩子們一一爬上樓梯,膽子大的迫不及待地帶頭去,往下一跳,撲通湃啦,濺出白閃閃的大水花。他們興奮尖叫,好不樂乎。池旁有個教練拿著一根長棍,把落水的娃娃們撈了,帶到池邊。那些娃們一上來,牙齒雙腿都打顫,臉上卻笑得開心。好像很好玩啊,應該沒事吧!我安慰自己。怡安落在最後一個,她臉色沈重,憂心忡忡,身體顫抖著。她自小就是個守規矩的孩子,我了解她正在極力忍耐著她的恐懼感,控制自己不要哭叫或跑走。我很想上前去把她拉出來,一走了之,但是我也忍住了,往後退,只感到淚水在眼裡打轉。

終於輪到她上去了。她步步艱難地爬上樓梯,戰戰兢兢地總算走到了跳板的邊緣。在那兒站了好久,她沒法跳下去。那教練彎著腰直勸著她,但怡安就是沒反應。他們僵在上頭好長的時間,我的淚水流不停,我心裡叫著:「放了她,讓她下來吧!」但是我的喉嚨很緊。突然,那教練推了她一把,她像一顆石頭墜入水裡,嘩啦一聲,水花四濺。我嚇壞了,衝到池邊,卻見她已經浮到水面,漂浮著,被教練導向池邊。爬出池子,她微笑著。啊!安全過關!

於是這游泳課持續了數個禮拜,怡安終於熟悉了水性,更欣慰的是她也喜歡上跳水了。這個可怕的學習經驗卻開啟了她多年的游泳歷史,她從五年級開始到高中都是游泳隊的成員,還參加高中的水球隊,多年比賽,拿了許多獎盃。從這段經驗,我了解到,困難終究是可以克服的。

Chen Family Story #12

The City of Cerritos was a town full of new immigrants. Store signs in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Hindi were side by side with the ones in English. Our relatives and friends informed us that choosing a good school district for children was the biggest concern when deciding on where to live. To our surprise, we had moved into a city with the highest ranked high school in California, Whitney High. The school admits students based on  highly selective academic standards. Students have to be at the top of their class and pass a rigorous entrance examination. Many families move here in hopes that their children will get in. I was surprised that the phenomenon of chasing a “celebrity school” didn’t only exist in Taiwan. “The school is more than 70% Asian students,”  my landlord Mr. Chang explained to us. He and his wife both earned master’s degrees in computer science and worked for a computer company as programmers. He gave us property investment advice: “The golden rule of buying a house is location, location, location, and the value of a house in a good school district can only keep rising.”

Henry and I were not thrilled with having the best school in town. First of all, we had never believed that kids had to go to a celebrity school to succeed. Secondly, we didn’t have the money to buy a house yet, let alone a house in a good school district. What excited Henry the most was a supermarket called Ding Hao where he could find Chinese food; for me, it was the library. We started buying tofu, Chinese vegetables, Taiwanese snacks, and fresh meat that we felt was too expensive in American markets. The library was a great resource that made me so happy. It was huge in size compared to the one in Rancho Palos Verdes. I got lost in its maze-like shelves all the time. I was moved by the significant collection of foreign language books. Standing in front of the bookshelves full of unknown languages, I felt very lucky to be in a melting pot where different ethnicities and cultures were welcomed. However, I skipped checking out the abundance of Chinese books because I had an urge to learn English.

Cerritos City Library in 1990

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Beyond the wall of our backyard was the field of Anelise’s school (Carver Elementary School). From upstairs, we had a view of the openness of the school. I paid attention to the school bells. After the long buzz of the bell, the cheerful shouts of children would follow; after another buzz, dead silence. Feeling the rhythm of a school comforted me. I got used to telling the time by counting bells. When I heard the last bell before noon, I would excitedly exclaim to Angela, “Almost time to pick up Jie-jie!” Then I would push Angela’s stroller and walk through the tiny park where some huge red-wooded trees sheltered a small playground. A merry-go-round was in a sand box, waiting for kids to enjoy.  

I noticed that this school was more ethnically diverse than the school in Rancho Palos Verdes. Parents and grandparents happily greeted their little ones by the gate, speaking different languages. Anelise and her classmate, a Korean girl, took the same route to go home. The girl’s grandpa and I would let them play on the merry-go-round. I would push it, making it turn faster and faster, and the girls would burst out with extremely excited laughter. The Grandpa would sit on the bench, watching them play. Neither of us spoke much English, so the way we communicated was through smiles and laughter, but at least we both knew “hi” and “bye.”

I was very impressed by a huge park located in the south part of the city, Cerritos Regional Park. An irregularly shaped artificial lake lapped at the open green lawn. A white fountain shot water up into the sky, humming in the tranquil, vast openness. We came to see model boats swerving around on the water among untroubled ducks and geese. Many grandfathers were instructing their grandchildren on their operation. On weekends, the park was festive, with music playing, picnic areas decorated with colorful balloons and garlands, and BBQ grills smoking with the sweet aroma of meat. Kids played on the lawn or rode bikes on the trails while adults prepared food or took care of children. The sun was bright, and the sky was blue. The air was clean. Surrounded by family in a place full of joy and peace,  I felt profoundly blessed.  

 


 

喜瑞都這城市有許多新移民,店面的招牌有各種外文和英文並列著:西班牙文,印度文,韓文,和中文等等。親戚朋友們都告訴我們說要選住家一定要選一個好學區,很巧合的,我們租來的這房子的學區,就有一個全加州排名第一的高中,叫惠特尼公立高中。學生們要在初中的成績屬於最優秀的一群,還要在入學考試裡得到最高分的成績,才能被選入學校。很多人搬到這裡就是為了讓孩子有進入這個高中的機會。我對著現象感到很驚奇,原來不是只有台灣才有「追逐明星學校」的現象。我的房東告訴我們說,這學校裏的亞裔學生超過了70%。我們的房東夫妻都在美國拿到了電腦碩士學位,一起在同一家電腦公司擔任程式設計師。「找房子的密訣就是地點,地點,地點!好學區的房價只會漲,不會跌。」他傳達給我們他投資的智慧。

我和Henry一點也不迷信明星學校,而且我們也沒有財力買房子,所以我們並沒有對這學校的事情在意。Henry最有興趣的反倒是一家中國超市叫「頂好」的,他們有中國中食物賣,我們就開始享用我們熟悉的東西,比如豆腐,中國青菜和糕餅點心。而我呢,就對他們的圖書館特感興趣。那館佔地好大,比Rancho Pales verdes大上十倍不止,好像個大迷宮,我在裏面常常迷了路。那圖書館還有好多的外語藏書,中文書也占了好大部分。我站在書架前,深深體會到這個國家真的是個民族大熔爐,我們很幸運,能夠成為這個歡迎外來種族、外來文化的國家的一員。但是,我並不借出中文書來讀,因為我有一股積極學英文的熱情。

喜瑞都市的圖書館–1990

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我們家的後院圍牆之外便是怡安的學校操場,到樓上可以俯視整個校區。我對學校鐘聲很留意,每當它那粗又沈的聲音一拉,孩子們尖銳吵雜的玩樂聲便接踵而來。再一次鐘聲之後,瞬間寂靜無聲。沐浴在這個校園的韻律裡,讓我覺得特別安逸。我養成了隨著鐘聲預測時間的習慣,每當中午的鐘聲響起,我就和安祺寶寶說,「走了,去接姊姊放學了!」然後我便把寶寶放進嬰兒車裡,推著她走過小公園。那公園裡有幾棵參天的紅木,濃密的樹蔭遮蓋了一小塊沙坑,沙坑上有一座鐵旋轉盤,等著孩子們去玩耍。

我注意到這學校的學生種族,比怡安的第一個學校要複雜。鐵門旁邊等著父母,祖父母,很多人用不同的語言和他們的小朋友打招呼。怡安的同學有個韓國女孩,她的爺爺天天來接她後,就跟我們走同一個路線回家。我們每天就在公園的椅子上坐下來,看著兩個小女孩去旋轉盤上轉個不停。應她們的要求,我常為她們加速推轉,讓她們又怕又興奮地,尖叫尖笑個不停。我們大家都不會說英文,所以我們就共同的語文- 微笑和大笑- 溝通 。不過,至少我們都會說「嗨,」和「再見!」

這都市的南邊有一個超大的公園,裡邊有個不規則形狀的人工湖。湖中有個噴泉,噴灑著白色的水柱,為這安靜的公園點綴出活潑的律動。經常有人在那兒玩遙控帆船,爺爺帶著孫子女,教他們操作。週末假日,公園裡充滿了節慶的歡樂:人們把餐桌鋪上桌布,裝飾著氣球和彩帶。烤肉爐上的煙燻出香甜的肉香。孩子們騎著腳踏車或在草地上玩耍。大人們忙著準備東西,照顧孩子。在這麼歡樂和平的地方,在藍天艷陽之下呼吸著清新的空氣,我深深感到自己的幸運。

Chen Family Story #11(10/7/16)

Loaded with furniture and boxes, our rental truck pulled away from the tranquil apartment compound. We waved goodbye to Sylvia and her daughter Cindy. It felt sad leaving a place we had become so attached to. As our small car trailed behind the truck on the freeway, I tried to convince myself that starting anew wasn’t bad. Soon, when I discovered our rented two-story house was next to a small park and Anelise’s new school, my sadness was gone. Although the front lawn of the house had turned brown, the window on the second floor revealed the sweeping green lawn of the school. We wanted to enjoy the warm and peaceful feeling of the holidays, so the Christmas tree followed us all the way here. We quickly set up all the furniture; the tree stood proudly by the fireplace. At night, we played Christmas songs while the lights on the tree twinkled in the dark. A brand new and unfamiliar place had quickly become a home.

Wow! Happy, elating news! Our Taiwanese neighbors, the Pang family, who lived several houses down the road, were visiting us! Anelise’s favorite playmates San-San and Michael were coming with their grandparents and mom. Mr. and Mrs. Pang were visiting their sons who worked and lived in Silicon Valley. The family had arranged dates to visit us in LA as well. We picked them up from the Holiday Inn in Pasadena. As we drove up the 110 Freeway past downtown LA, the sight of unevenly standing concrete-metal skyscrapers against the gray sky shocked me. Once again, I was disappointed with the landscape of this big city. However, soon my eyes were wide open, hungrily observing the classical buildings and colorful landscapes in Pasadena, where, in my opinion,  the traditional architecture aesthetic of America was much better represented.

Our two families were happily reunited. I asked them about our old neighbors. The subjects couldn’t be all covered without mentioning the Pang’s beloved dog, the loyal German shepherd Lucky. Lucky followed San-San around wherever she went. She would sit by the door as long as her junior master stayed in my house. While they were away, the neighbor was taking care of Lucky and their house. In the big cities of Taiwan, the majority of people reside in flats. They lamented the vanishing of the connection among neighbors. Quite in contrast, the small community in a rural area where we lived (about 20 or so residents) was a great example of a close knit neighborhood which almost everybody knew one another, and small favors such as feeding the dog, water the plants, or carpooling were regular.

I noticed that when Anelise played with her old friends, she was very relaxed and active. They screamed and laughed, and the Mandarin they spoke sounded like happy and cheerful music. What a difference! Now I could see the stress Anelise had in school as a newcomer – she was almost totally silent in her classes during her first year.

Sylvia visited me one day. She came alone. I cooked the dumplings she liked and we had lunch at home. She revealed to me that she would be a surrogate mother. “What is that?” I didn’t understand what “surrogate” meant. She explained to me that she would go through pregnancy and give birth to a child for an anonymous couple. “It is legal, and I can earn as much as thirty thousand dollars,” she said. I was shocked. Although it was not a thing that I had never heard of, here was a real person in front of me going to do that thing that only seemed to exist in the media. “I’m planning to get a divorce, and that money can help me to raise my kids alone for some time,” she said. “My marriage is over!” Her tone was firm and decisive. That money was crucial for her while she moved to New Mexico to stay with her own family. Deep in my mind I wished that she didn’t need to crash into a bump like divorce, but I kept silent for I knew that my opinion didn’t matter at all. Additionally, my English speaking skills were bad enough that I couldn’t say anything lengthy to express any complex thoughts. At that point I never encountered any troubling couple fighting for divorce, so I felt especially sad for her. I still had the image of her leaning on the couch with her legs stretching long, speaking calmly in her soft voice. Her relaxing gesture didn’t disguise the sadness shown in her eyes and smile. We never met again and finally lost touch with each other, but I always think of her, and wish her and her family the best.

Our life continued peacefully while Henry brought home the bread, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a money-earning job, so I stayed home as a housewife. It was 25 years ago, but Henry’s company implemented an energy-saving program, encouraging employees go to work by carpooling or by public transportation. Henry left for work at six A.M. on the bus, and came home at 4 P.M. The best moment of every day was walking along the sidewalk with Anelise by the side of Angela’s stroller to meet Henry. Before greeting him when he stepped off the bus, we looked at the flowers, trees, birds and squirrels in front yards of our neighborhood. After giving the girls a big hug, Henry would start to talk about his work all the way home. “The work here was very simple. I was just working on a small part of a big project,” he said. In Taiwan, he had to manage a computer company which created and completed many big projects. We were in a transitional period of time. Both of us faced a shrinking perspective on our future; mainly, we had to drop certain ambitions for our careers, and focus on survival. Later, he mentioned the rumor that his company would start to lay off employees. “I don’t think I’ll be targeted! They would not lay off a person they just hired!” he reasoned.

 

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搬運卡車滿載了傢俱和箱子,駛離這個謐靜的公寓社區,Sylvia和女兒Cindy在屋前和我們揮手道別。離開這個已經產生感情的地方,我們很是心酸。當我們的小車緊隨著大卡車奔馳在高速公路上時,我得告訴自己,迎接新局不是什麼壞事。很快的,當我發現這棟租來的房子緊鄰著一個小公園,和怡安的新學校時,我的心酸頓時煙消雲散。雖然前院的草坪早乾枯了,二樓窗外倒有一片學校開闊的綠地操場景致。我們仍然想望著溫馨的聖誕氣氛,所以聖誕樹也一路跟著來了,很快的我們把傢俱安置好,讓這樹站在壁爐旁邊。晚上點亮樹上的小燈,看著它們閃閃爍爍,聽著耶誕歌曲,這個原本完全陌生的地方,已然成為我們的家。

哇!大好消息振奮了我們!我們在台北的鄰居潘媽媽一家人,要到我們家來。潘媽媽家就住在離我們家幾棟房子遠的路底。在那台北郊區的社區裡,每戶人家都彼此認識。她的孫女珊珊是怡安的最好玩伴,這次潘媽媽和他們全家到聖荷西去看住在那兒她的兩個兒子的家庭,也順道來我們家看看。我們要去Pasadena 的Holiday Inn載他們,途中從110 高速公路往北開到洛杉磯市中心的邊緣,我就被眼前的景像驚嚇到。眼前是一棟棟的鋼架水泥老舊大樓,參差不齊的聳立到灰黑的天空。再一次我又被這個世界知名大城市的景色感到嚴重的失望。但是,當我們進入Pasadena 市,馬上對這市區的古典而優雅的建築,和彩色繽紛的花園感到無限驚喜,我想這應該是一個典型的,具有歷史傳統美感的美國都市。

我們兩個家庭很興奮地見面了, 我除了忙著詢問舊鄰居的現況,潘媽媽家的忠狗 Lucky 是少不了的話題。Lucky 是一隻德國狼犬,她總是陪伴著他的小主人珊珊,珊珊走到哪裡,她就跟到哪裡。珊珊到我們家來玩,她就坐在我家門口不動,直到珊珊出門,她就護送著小主人回家。現在他們不在,鄰居們就幫忙照顧Lucky和房子。在台灣的都市,大家都住在在大樓的公寓裡,人們老是感嘆人情薄弱,鄰居老死不相往來。但是我們住的那個郊外小社區,大約只有二十戶人家,和大台北市不同,幾乎每家人都互相認識。平常大家總會彼此幫助,比如臨時看管房子,澆水,搭便車等。我注意到當怡安和潘家孩子玩在一起的時候,非常放鬆活躍,他們吱吱喳喳地講著的中文,聽起來像音樂般的美妙。這讓我了解到怡安處在一個語言,文化,人種完全陌生的環境,會是多麼的緊張不適。她在美國教室中的第一年,幾乎沒有開口說過話。

有一天,Sylvia 來找我聊天。她自己來,沒帶孩子。我做了她喜歡的餃子,就在家吃中飯。她向我透露說她要做一個「代母」。我不懂英文「待母」這個字,她解釋說她要為一對夫婦「代孕產子」。「這完全是合法的,我可以賺到三萬塊!」她繼續解釋自己的動機,說她一定要離婚,而這三萬塊可以讓她單獨照顧她的孩子好一陣子。她說她想搬到新墨西哥州靠近自己的家人,這樣可以互相照顧。我並非完全沒聽說過「代孕生子」這事,但沒想到眼前這位朋友竟是個當事人。我不知道如何回應她的決定,我知道我的意見對她必定是無關緊要的,因為她看來意志很堅定,不可動搖。再者,我的英文會話能力也薄弱到無能多講的程度。在我的周遭環境中,她是第一個面對離婚的人,我因此特別為她心痛。到現在我都還懷記著當年的映象:她伸長了腿,靠坐在沙發上,娓娓而談,語氣平和。但是這份平靜,卻掩蓋不住她眼中和微笑裡滲泌出來的心傷。我們不曾再見,也失去了聯繫。不知她人現在何處,境遇如何,但是我經常想到她,暗暗地祝福著她和她的家人。

就這樣,到現在為止,我們的生活算是很平靜。Henry 掙錢養家,我則是第一次體會到做一個純粹的家庭主婦的滋味。Henry 的公司早在二十五年前就提倡節約能源,他們鼓勵員工搭乘大眾運輸工具或共乘上班。Henry 配合制度,每天趕六點鐘的公車上班, 下班到站是四點。我們每天最快樂的時刻就是走路到公車站去接他。怡安走在安祺的娃娃車旁邊,我們一路說說唱唱,瀏覽樹木花草,松鼠小鳥,很快就走到了車站。Henry 給怡安一個擁抱後,就會開始談公司的工作。他說現在這份工作比起他在台灣可簡單太多了,他現在只需做大部門中的一份小技術工作。反之在台灣,他是一個電腦公司的軟硬體設計負責人,責任很重大。我們現在處於轉變期,得縮減我們對未來的展望,尤其是在事業上的野心與期待。我們早有心裡準備,在這裡,我們必須以求基本生存為重。之後,Henry 說大家傳流著公司即將遣散解雇員工的謠言。「我應該不會中標的,他們怎會遣散一個才新雇用的員工呢?」Henry 自我解釋著。

Chen Family Story #10

Reaching out to the community is important for a newly immigrated family, and taking part in religious activities is probably the most common way to do it, so a routine Sunday temple visit was added into our lives. I did not have a religious upbringing; we were limited to worshipping ancestors on traditional holidays, with food, incense, and a few words of appreciation silently spoken in mind. On the contrary, Henry’s family is strongly rooted in Buddhism. In the 1960s, my father-in-law was ordained as a priest of the I-Kuan-Tao Temple. It was a new religion founded in 1930’s in China that came to Taiwan after the Communists occupied the mainland. The theory behind it encompasses Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. As a member of the family, I felt obligated to practice this religion, although most of the time with hesitance.

Sue and David quickly became involved with a newly established I-Kuan-Tao Temple located in the the city of Baldwin Park. The passionate believers, most of them Taiwanese, attended their Sunday rituals and classes. Many enthusiastic younger patrons who worked as accountants, engineers, or business owners would organize activities and give lectures to share their thoughts. Older folks would cook lunch. Kids were put into Chinese class. The most enjoyable moment was lunch time, when women revealed their secret vegetarian recipes and children’s schools’ information, and men talked about politics and business. To help the immigrants cope with their new lives as soon as possible, many regulations and tips were thrown around — “Get a car loan to establish your credit!” or “Buying a house? Location! Location! Location!” The most serious and practical one was “Never spank your child or you will go to jail!”

Henry’s job was stable, but over two hours of commuting every day became exhausting. When we met a young couple at the temple, we soon became their tenant. They both worked for a high tech company and the high pay allowed them to purchase a second home. They rented the old house to us at a monthly rate of $1300. Although it was higher than our previous rent, we accepted it gladly, considering the time and gas Henry could save. We started planning to move to the city of Cerritos. Leaving our new home in the small and quiet coastal town was sad, but moving forward was what the life of a settler was like, and we were ready for it.

Even though a big task was coming up, we didn’t want to skip Christmas decorations. Anelise took home many holiday crafts made at school. Paper snowflakes and pictures of Santa Claus with reindeer were up on the windows and walls. Su sent over her big artificial Christmas tree with all of the ornaments well kept in boxes. Ads in the mail taught us how to decorate the tree. Soon, it was full of lights, garlands of tinsel, and shining ornaments. As the advertisements instructed, I bought a “skirt” to cover the stand of the tree. While we sometimes went outside at night to marvel at the various adorned trees in neighbors’ windows, we enjoyed the tranquility and beauty that our colorful, sparkling tree created in the living room. I played Christmas songs on the tape recorder, and taught Anelise to sing my favorite one, ”Silent Night”.

The time had come to say goodbye to the neighbors. When we visited my neighbour Robert, he told us that he had just been diagnosed with cancer. We felt sad and Henry made a copy of his favorite soothing music tape for him. When we gave him the tape, he played it, and tears came to his eyes. “I am gonna miss this little girl so much!” He hugged Anelise.

Later, we were invited to a Christmas party that David’s cousin was having. The huge Spanish style house was tucked away in a gated community. Its ceiling was two stories high, and the kitchen was about the size of our apartment! We were stunned! We had seen large houses in America, but not at this scale. The living room was furnished with classic Chinese style furniture – huge vases with flowers, and a big paintbrush painting. I later discovered that this living room was only functioning as a showroom. Their real living room was in the back, equipped with leather couches, a big screen TV, and a magnificent stereo system. The daughter, who was a few years older than Anelise, invited her to play in her princess style bedroom. We got a new idea of what it was like being a rich American.

It was the morning of Christmas Day, I knocked on our neighbor Sylvia’s door in order to say goodbye. The moment she opened the door, I was shocked. Her eyes were black and cheek bruised. I asked her what happened and her tears poured. The night before, she had been beaten up by her husband when she refused to go to her mother-in-law’s for Christmas dinner. “I prepared the dinner already,” she explained. “The table had been set and everything was ready. His mother suddenly called and asked us to go to her place. She hadn’t invited us and suddenly she makes the command! I refused to go but my husband insisted we had to go. We had a fight and he hit me.” Her husband took the children and stormed out to his mother’s. She must have cried all night because her eyes were also swollen. Although I was so upset and shocked, I didn’t know what to do. “What will you do?” I asked.  “I have to divorce my husband,” she said. “I can’t stand this anymore! This is not the first time it has happened!” I felt very sad that we were moving away and I couldn’t help her at all. She hugged me and promised me that she would visit us.

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#10

參加社區活動對新移民來說特別重要,而加入宗教團體活動可能是最簡單普遍的途徑。現在,我們的生活裡加上了一個每個禮拜天上佛堂聽道理的活動。我自己的家沒有什麼宗教信仰,與未知世界最接近的,也就只有在各種傳統節日中,在備有豐富菜餚果品的桌前執香禮拜,口中默念,感恩我們的祖先而已。相反的,Henry 的家族篤信佛教,我的公公在六十年代成為一個新宗教「一貫道」的點傳師。這個宗教結合了佛教、道教、和儒教,於三十年代在中國成立,蔣介石政府來台灣之後,他們的前輩也隨之來台宣教。成為陳家的一員之後,雖然我的傳統思想讓我覺得有義務去參加他們的活動,但是,我總覺得無法企合,全心投入。

Sue 和David此時很勤奮地參加一個新成立的一貫道道院的活動,這個新成立的道院位在Baldwin Park,當時的道親多是台灣移民。他們很積極努力,每個禮拜天準時到佛堂參拜,聽習經文。年輕而充滿熱情的信徒,大多數是會計師,工程師,或生意老闆,是這個團體的主力,他們上台講道並且策劃活動。年紀大些的道親們就負責在廚房烹煮中飯,年幼的孩子則送入中文班學習。最受人喜愛的時候便是中餐,老老少少共聚,享用着道親們各家的拿手純素家常菜。大家一邊吃着,一邊聊天。女人們分享私家食譜,或孩子上學的資訊,男人們便談論政治或生意經。為了讓新來乍到的移民們儘快地適應新生活,很多人大力宣傳他們的忠言或小秘訣:「用貸款買車好建立信用!」「買房子秘訣?地點!地點!地點!」「絶不能打孩子,否則要坐牢!」

Henry 的工作已穩定下來,但是單程一小時的車程去上下班也真是累人。我們在佛堂認識了一對年輕夫婦,他們就成為我們的房東了。這對同在高科技公司工作的電腦工程師剛剛買一棟新房子,他們便把舊房子出租了。月租一千三百元是比我們的第一個房租高,但是卻可以省下許多時間精力和汽油,我們很樂意地把房子租下來了。接下來就要計劃搬家了,我們的新家在喜瑞都市 (Cerritos)。離開這個寧靜的海濱小城很令人傷感,但是遷移不定就是新移民追求新生活的第一要素,我們早有了心理準備。

雖然搬家大事在即,我們不願放棄耶誕節的裝飾。怡安從學校帶回來很多的紙雪花、耶誕老人、麋鹿等美勞作品,都貼上了窗子和牆壁。Su 送給我們一棵人造聖誕樹和一大箱掛飾,我從郵寄來的廣告傳單裡學着怎麼裝飾吊掛。很快地,一樹小燈,彩帶,小玩偶,充滿節日喜慶地,已站在客廳一角,我還在廣告單上學到為這棵樹舖上一條「裙子」。夜裡,我常帶着孩子在社區裡散步,欣賞家家戶戶窗裡晶瑩閃爍的燈景,回家,我們就享受自家的樹創造出來的那份恬靜與祥和。當錄音機裡放著耶誕歌曲時,我便教怡安唱著我最喜歡的「平安夜」。

是和鄰居們道別的時候了。我們去 Robert 家時,他告訴我們他最近才發現自己得了癌症。我們很難過,Henry轉錄了一個錄音帶給他,那是我們最喜歡聽的輕音樂曲專輯,當他把帶子放進錄音機裡,播放出抒情的音樂時,他的眼裡已經浮上了淚水。「我一定會很想念這個小女孩的啊!」他抱了一下怡安。

David 的親戚邀請我們到他家去過耶誕節,他們家是一棟西班牙式的兩層大樓房,座落在有警衛鐵門的社區內。房子進門是二層樓高的高挑玄關,而廚房特別大,大約有我們住的那個公寓客廳一般大。我們很吃驚,因為來此之後還沒看過這麽大的住家。客廳裡裝飾著巨大的中國式花瓶,還有大幅國畫掛在牆壁上,很氣派。我後來才曉得這種華麗的客廳經常是不用的,純屬裝飾。他們真正的起居室在後面,有著黑色的真皮沙發,大屏幕電視和大音響系統。他們的女兒比怡安大幾歲,很興奮地邀請怡安到她那佈置得很小公主味道的房間去玩。這是我們第一次見識到美國的富有人家的生活空間。

耶誕日大早,我去Sylvia家敲敲門,想和她道別。當她開門時,我被嚇壞了,她的臉頰上有一塊黑青,眼圈下也紫黑了一圈。我問她發生了什麼事,她當場淚水傾眶而出。昨天晚上,她先生打了她,就因為她拒絕去婆婆家吃耶誕晚餐。「我早把餐桌擺設好了,食物都準備好了。他媽媽突然打電話來叫我們過去吃飯,她沒有事先邀請我們,卻下一道臨時的命令!我不肯去,但是我先生一定要去,我們吵了一架,他就打我!」他先生帶了孩子氣狠狠地出去了。她一個人在家,可能哭了一夜,現在雙眼腫脹。我也被嚇呆了,不知如何是好。「現在怎麼辦呢?」我問她。「我一定要跟他離婚,我再也受不了了,這個已經不是第一次了!」我覺得很難過,但又不知道如何幫她,尤其在我們正要搬家的時候。她給我一個擁抱,答應我她會到我們的新家拜訪。

 

Our Winter Program was a success! We had a talent show, a Chinese recital, and an award ceremony to honor some of our outstanding students! Great job, everyone!

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It’s San Francisco! As the bus approached the city, my mind brought me back to the scene of me, a 13-year-old girl in Taiwan, singing this song:

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there

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For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair

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All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion

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There’s a whole generation
With a new explanation
People in motion
People in motion

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For those who come to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there

 

The song was released in 1967. We would listen on a 1960’s stereo in our living room. My older brother, a high schooler, followed the fashion and started collecting American pop records. Spending my weekends sitting next to the stereo and singing along with them was one of my favorite activities when I was in middle school. I fell in love with this one for its beautiful melody and lyrics. “Why does the song praise a city full of gentle people, and ask them to wear flowers in their hair?” I had asked myself, but I never got an answer. “The song must be made for the purpose of tourism!” I explained to myself satisfactorily.

Apparently, I was not educated enough to understand how historically important the song was to this period in history. As the bus arrived in the city and I started to hum the melody, I still had no idea that this song was not for telling tourists to spend money shopping or sightseeing in San Francisco, but for advocating a city that had become the symbol of the antiwar and counterculture movement. It reflected the dramatic radical 60’s in American history — the Cold War began, the brutal Vietnam War worsened, and the Civil Rights movement rose to its peak.

Taiwan has always been closely connected with America not only politically, but also culturally. The Chiang Kai-Shek government, which was defeated by the Chinese Communists and fled to Taiwan,  became a close ally of the democratic world, especially America. A decade later, many people like me enjoyed many aspects of American culture, especially American pop music, although we we did not understand its background. Now I can certainly blame the nonexistence of the internet, as well as a poor curriculum, which failed to equip students with a global view, as the cause of my ignorance.

Henry was excited to show us the skyscraper where his previous office was located. We took the cable car up and down the streets like the scenes I saw in the movies. We visited the park and Golden Gate Bridge. I was startled by the sight of the bright red bridge. Its thick metal wires hung in curves like a huge red garland decorating the dome of the blue sky and ocean. Henry enthusiastically addressed how relaxing it was to walk through Golden Gate Park, breathing the fresh air with the smell of pine trees on the weekend.

In the shopping district, tourists spoke in many different languages, walking by and looking around curiously with smiles on their faces. We were among them. Anelise grabbed my hand tightly in fear of getting lost. At the Fisherman’s Wharf, many street artists were miming statues. I wanted to observe their subtle movements, but Anelise tried to pull me away from them. “They look scary!” she exclaimed. At night, we stayed in the Holiday Inn outside of the city. We sat on the floor eating crab that we bought from the Fisherman’s Wharf and watching “E. T.” on TV. “E.T. gave me a nightmare that night!” Anelise remembered, years later. I guess for a little kid, such a huge, unknown world was not as fun as the adults thought it.

Our last stop was the city of Solvang. It’s a tourist destination famous for its Danish style architecture. Danish immigrants settled there in the 1910’s and gave the town a name in their language, meaning “Sunny Field.” The bright blue sky and dazzling sunlight bathed the towering windmill, thatch roofing, and half-timbered facade of the buildings. The sights made me feel like we were in a fairytale book. A statue of the Little Mermaid sat on the street. I saw the plaque of the fairytale creator, H.C. Anderson. It reminded me of how sad I felt when I read the heartbroken Little Mermaid turns into sea foam.  The streets were narrow, with the small stores tightly packed in and close to one another. Most of them were bakeries or souvenir stores. We sat in a cute cafe and enjoyed their Danish cookies and croissants.

Can the tourists, who is busily taking pictures, shopping and eating, understand lives 100 years ago? I started to imagine the pioneers who were hustling with errands: they were on horses or wagons, exchanging their produce, shopping for goods, chatting about weather, farming and their family. This village’s vibrations, with its coziness and charm, lay in contrast to Hearst Castle – sitting alone on top of the hill, huge but empty.