My husband Henry started job hunting. He sent out many resumes, and went to a job fair where he ran into a college friend who had a PhD in Electrical Engineering. The friend hadn’t gotten any job offers despite several months of waiting. He thought maybe his lack of citizenship or a green card was an issue. But the problem went beyond just that. At the time, the global economy was facing a recession. Finding a job was hard for almost everyone. Henry was anxious. If he couldn’t get a job soon, our new life in America would be jeopardized. I remember Henry’s relatives and friends were afraid they would get laid off. This was our first experience with the term “layoffs.” In Taiwan, there was no such concept. Major defense suppliers in the area, such as Northrop and Boeing, were closing their factories. I saw a huge Northrop sign on top of a deserted office compound. Henry told me the company had made “airplanes for war.” Several other stores stood vacant across stretches of strip malls, their windows dark and dirty.
When Henry and I established our own family, we were never short of money, but now I felt pressured. Everything cost so much: the rent was $1200 a month; utility bills added up to one hundred; food and clothing were another hundred-something; furniture, appliances, tools, and other miscellaneous items left another dent in our bank balance. Henry estimated that without a steady income, we could live one year on our savings alone. However, that was the best possible scenario—the one where we’d have good luck and be free of sickness and accident. The healthcare expenses were incredibly high. We were told that a one-night stay in the hospital would cost tens of thousands of dollars. Henry hung his guardian angel Guan-Yin Buddha’s portrait on the wall to watch over us.
A place we liked to go most was the nearest supermarket. It was called “Hughes.” I was told that it was the supermarket chain of Howard Hughes, a famous, secretive, rich man and the founder of the Hughes Aircraft Company. It felt bizarre connecting a high-end industry with a grocery store, but I figured that was big businesses—they branched out all over the place. We were in awe of the tableaux of produce; arranged like colorful hills were apples, oranges, cabbages, and many others. They glimmered under the bright fluorescent lights and looked as unreal as the perfectly fake samples. We enjoyed walking on the shining floor, patrolling the aisles to browse a variety of exotic packaged foods. One item that made Anelise so smiley and cheerful was a package of tiny, chewy Gummy Bears. The treat was so precious that she would play with it before eating it. The small package would last her several days. Strangely for us, the market seemed too silent. We had to talk softly because loud voices would make the
shoppers, who were mostly seniors, raise their eyebrows. We came from Taipei, a city nicknamed “the city without nights,” where the night markets were so busy and vibrant that people squished past each other shoulder-to-shoulder; where the stores and restaurants were brightly lit along streets with ceaseless traffic and crowds. Immediately, we left behind our craving for festivity and adapted to this new serenity. As newcomers, we observed everything around us, trying to blend in.
Henry helped his friend revise his resume. Both of them quickly found jobs after that. His friend was hired by a company in Northern California with good pay. Henry got a job in Anaheim. His boss was impressed by his programming skills and his past experience in Taipei working on a computer-controlled traffic light system.
That weekend, Henry didn’t get to relax. In the morning, he went off with his brother-in-law David. Anelise and I stayed home taking care of baby Angela. In the late afternoon we heard him yelling, “Hey, come out here! Look what I got!” Anelise was jumping around and clapping her hands when she saw it—a shiny brand new Toyota Camry! Anelise told me recently that she still remembers the smell of its interior. Henry excitedly began to work. He had honed his English communication skills after years of working with a Dutch engineer in the Taipei Philips Company. A year prior, he was sent to San Francisco to work for his boss’s family business. They had just purchased a country-wide chain of shoe stores, and Henry was the head programmer who linked the data for all the cashier machines. At Henry’s new job he only worked on a particular part of the project. Compared to his previous experience, his job in Anaheim seemed like a piece of cake. I think he probably experienced some sense of loss. Still, he said, “That’s the way big companies do their job.” He accepted the reality without lamenting the past.
Henry had to leave for work at 5 am when it was still dark out in order to beat traffic and be on time for work at 7 am. In afternoon when the sun was still up bright, Anelise would run to the front entrance. “Daddy is home!” she’d yell when she heard the slamming of the car door. She would get a big hug, then we would sit down, have our afternoon tea, and chat. Henry would talk about his new job and I would talk about the baby and Anelise’s school-things. From me: “Angela slept 5 hours straight and I had to check on her breathing every 30 minutes,” or “Anelise said her teacher knocked on her head because she didn’t know how to answer a question.” And from him: “My colleagues are multiethnic: one’s Filipino, one’s Japanese, some are Latino, some are white, and me.” Henry got an annual salary of $42,000. For us, it was a good start as new immigrants. We felt happy and relieved. “Guan-Yin Buddha never stops blessing us!” Henry concluded faithfully and has ever since.
Before my family moved to America, I was one of two writers on a drama series for the Taiwan Television Corp. We constructed a story depicting the complicated, intertwined lives of several characters between the years of 1910 and 1945. The setting was in China and Japanese-colonized Taiwan. It was my first big job after a few years of small projects. Joan Chen was the lead actress on the project. She had just gotten famous for playing the female lead in The Last Emperor. I finished the first ten episodes out of thirty before departing.
I always thought that when I stepped onto this new land, I’d bid farewell to my dreams of writing. It wasn’t until recently, when I looked through my journals, that I discovered my dream lasted a little while longer before being totally abandoned. In a journal entry, I wrote, “writing the script,”and “sending the script to Taiwan.” “What was the script?” I puzzled. Was the script ever produced? Did it air on T.V.? The producer’s name was written in my journal, but I had read in the newspaper more than ten years ago that he’d passed away. Trying very hard to think back, I vaguely remember that before I left Taiwan, I was paid to write a drama about ghosts. I didn’t keep the original script, and the story was totally lost in my memory. I must have realized that it was impossible to continue writing and called it quits.
My old dusty journal contains many ideas of stories I planned to write at the time. I can revisit the scene—when Angela was asleep and Anelise was in school, I would sit at the desk, accompanied by a cup of tea, and I’d jot down some ideas. However, I must have strongly believed that life couldn’t turn out the way I dreamt. As many things were happening and I was at the center of them, I had to respond. That meant responsibility. From that center, I launched into a day full of action. I cooked, cleaned, drove, taught, communicated. And I wondered, thought, analyzed, and solved whatever came up. So, instead of squeezing in some time for writing, I hid my journal away in an unsearched drawer. No more artificial drama. I used to enjoy setting people up to face dead ends and dilemmas, then dictating them to go in whatever direction I’d chosen. Now our life seemed unpredictable, and the direction I wished for us to go was the one without any drama.
我先生Henry開始找工作，他寄了一大堆履歷表出去。在一個求職大會上，他巧遇上他的大學同學。這位同學已經拿到電機博士學位了，但將近一年了還沒有找到工作，他說沒有居留權是很大的困擾。那個年代經濟正不景氣，我們老聽見Henry的親戚和他們的朋友談論著被「解雇」的危機。在台灣，我們沒聽說過有「lay off 解雇」這事。附近有個大辦公室的建築，空蕩蕩的停車場只有 Northrop 一個大招牌孤獨地站在那兒，Henry說他們是做戰爭飛機的。那個地區最大的工業是 Northrop 和Boeing 波音，都是飛機製造業，但很多工廠關門了。許多街邊的店也留下黑漆漆的玻璃窗門，又髒又淒涼。我們很躭憂，錢的壓力很大。在台灣我們剛建立一個小家庭，完全沒有經濟壓力，在這裡可不同了，樣樣都貴。公寓月租一千二百元，水電，電話等等又是百來元，食物也要兩三百，還要買新傢具，電器，雜物等等。哇，最難接受的的保險費，車子保險特貴，因為我們都是「新駕駛」！我們估計，如果我先生不能找到工作，光靠積蓄，我們只能生活一年。這還要靠運氣，如果沒病沒意外，沒問題，如果要生病了，住一天醫院要花數千到數萬！Henry一向篤信觀音菩薩是他的守護神，他很虔誠地把觀音像掛在牆上，觀照著我們。
Henry幫他的朋友修改了屨歷表，他們兩人很快地都找到工作。 他朋友在北加州拿到一份高薪工作， 一個在 Anaheim市的公司雇用了我先生。他們看中Henry 在台灣多年的電腦控制 交通號誌系統的經驗，和他的程式設計技術。 得到工作的那個週末，Henry也沒得放鬆，和他的姐夫外出去了，留我在家照顧怡安和小安祺。下午天快黑時，我們聽到他大聲叫著：「嘿，快出來看哪！」怡安看到那東西，拍着手，又叫又跳，哇！是一輛全新、灰色、亮閃閃的Toyota Camry ！怡安最近和我説，她還記得那「新車子的味道」。Henry 開始工作了，以英文溝通對他並無問題，因為他第一個工作是在台灣菲利普公司和一個荷蘭工程師一起做事，我們來此的前一年，他又被派到舊金山領導一個連鎖美國的鞋店收銀網路系統設計。他目前的這個工作和以前比起來，可是太容易了，他只是負責一個小部份，不像從前要身負重任，開疆闢土。「大公司都是這樣的，分工精細。」他說。他也許有些失落感，但是並不遺憾。
他大早五點就要出門，天沒亮，高速公路就已擠滿了車。他們七點就要上班了，但回到家才四點，天還大亮。怡安一聽到車門砰然一聲，就大喊「爸爸回來了！」馬上跑去開門去，得到一個大大的擁抱。我們就圍在飯桌邊，邊喝茶吃點心，邊聊著天。我就說，「安祺連睡五個鐘頭，我得三十分鐘就去檢查一下她的呼吸。」或者，「怡安的老師敲了她的頭，因為她不會答話。」等等。Henry 會說，「我們公司是聯合國，同事人種很複雜，有菲律賓人，日本人，墨西哥人，白人，還有我。」Henry 拿到 $42000的年薪，對新移民來說，應該是很好的了，我們很高興，也放下心頭重負。「觀音菩薩一直都很照顧我們的！」這句話從此以後成為 Henry 的口頭禪。