I longed for the outdoors. I would take two little girls and a newborn baby to visit the nearby park. The park’s lawn was dazzling green. Tall pine trees dotted the lawn here and there, shielding from the sharp glare of the sun. I would sit next to Angela under the tree and watch two girls playing on the swing. The park was always nearly empty. The deep humming of wind was the only sound harmonizing the giggle of my girls. Once a while from the basketball court the frail shouting and cheering of boys echoed. Occasionally, two or three kids would join us on the swing. I wondered why it was so quiet. Aren’t there so many residents here? Where were the adults, and what were kids doing after school? I hope we were not the only visitors enjoying the place and moment. A big park in Taipei where I lived, with thousands of citizens working out with dancing and Tai-Chi every morning, resulted a damaged lawn, but the atmosphere was always festive. Definitely, a park should be meant to people.
Our outdoor routine also included the walk around the apartment compound. Angela would be in her stroller, and Anelise would walk next to her, waving to her or touching her now and then. Anelise would pick some leaves or acorns and show Angela. She would address to her seriously, now in bilingual, “妳看, look, this is a 葉子, and this is an acorn.” I liked to ask her if she knew how to say things in English. “葉子 is leaf, acorn? 我不知道!” She didn’t know how to say acorn in Mandarin. “Acorn’s Chinese name is 松果.” I taught her, but in fact, I just learned from Anelise at that moment how to say acorn in English.
Angela would stare at us, or whatever that was in front of her, or she would just look around, all in confusion. So funny we felt, and we would laugh out loud and proudly assumed that she had learned about a few new things. To culminate the routine, we walked to the highest point of the compound to watch the sunset. We browsed the pink sky where the huge orange sun sank, and finally touched the horizon. We waited more until the fire ball disappeared into the ocean. The sky soon became grey and dark. “Now, the sun is heading to Taiwan, meeting our families and friends!” I told Anelise, and we smiled. We waved to the sun and spoke for Angela, “Goodnight, Sun!” Then we pushed the stroller and headed home.
Henry excitingly signed up a San Francisco and Yosemite tour for us. He was very eager to show us places as a proud host. In 1987, he worked in San Francisco for more than one year to lead a project connecting a nation-wide cashier machine system. For him, the mixed feeling of joy in accomplishment and struggle in hardworking was unforgettable. Again, We had to bother Su’s family to take care of Angela for three days. The day after we had turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, we boarded the bus that’s full of Chinese tourists. We chose going for a tour because the price was affordable. Tour advertisements occupied many pages on Chinese Daily New, the most popular Chinese language newspaper in USA. Tourism reflects economy. Advertisements in bounty explained the well being of Chinese immigrants. Now Henry found a good-pay job and we felt safe to spend money on a family trip. We felt lucky.
California has abundant of natural scenery. In the bus we witnessed plane, mountains, desert, and ocean. In Yosemite Park, we were stunned by its tranquility. On the trails wrapped by giant Sequoia, our feet made soft crispy sound on thick fallen leaves. Our eyes were fixed on the crystal stream running through different sizes of shining white rocks. In that morning of late autumn, our thick jackets were too thin to block the chilly mist, and our noses blew out white air. We walked to the most famous spot, the waterfall. In the middle of highrise vertical cliff extending across the sky, water dropped straight down, making noise. As a result of drought, the waterfall was a thin white line that looked wearily pathetic. “Oh, how sad!” We lamented. It was not at all the powerful water falling from mountain top as we saw from the picture. Where was the rain? There must be plenty of it to form this giant forest. We learned later that this forest was uplifted on top of the earth 10 million years ago. Drought now severely threatened the forest with possible fire. We saw many huge signs with a Smokey Bear saying “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”. We really wished it would be raining soon.
My great curiosity always found new places appealing. Wherever I went, I had to observe all things in details, then make comparison. As a mountain-lover, I started contrasting the spectacularity of the mountains here, and the ones in Taiwan. I concluded that the mountain in Taiwan, such as Jade Mountain, the highest one in East Asia, is more beautiful and magnificent than Yosemite’s. I was so proud that I had reached its 13000 feet summit in high school that I sniffed, “This one is only 4000 feet high!” Henry struck me, “Well, they are all beautiful but just different!” Then I realized that the mountains don’t exist for better or worse. They were just different beings living in different places ruled by nature.
My adventurous mind made me wandering around in hope to learn more bits of unknown. Whenever we were let go at a spot, many things would keep me lingering. What does that sign say? What is the name of the tree or flower? How did people build this arched bridge? How old can this interesting house be? My eyes were so busy and brain was totally occupied. Anelise reflected her memory of this trip: “I was horrified and embarrassed when you didn’t return to the bus on time and everybody was waiting. Finally, I saw you running to the bus, and the crowd cheered with a roar of relief.” This 5-year-old girl lectured her mom, “Mommy, don’t be late ever! Or we would go and leave you behind!”
If Yosemite is the grand creation of the mother nature, the Hearst Castle would be the grand product of human ambition. This modern castle was built on the top of the mountain, on the 1600 feet high top of Santa Lucia Range. What surrounding the castle compound in 360 degrees were nothing but brown and dry rolling hills. Over the hills it was blue sky and ocean. Eighty year ago when it was the residency of the super rich media tycoon William Hearst, a regular people like me would be forbidden to enter this “heaven”. Now, it is the wonderland for millions of tourists. We followed the guides, passing through its gilded blue tile pools, entering the huge high-ceiling ballroom decorated with carvings and humongous paintings, peeking into many dim rooms hidden in the maze-like hallways and stair ways. I was startled!
From 1919 to 1947, although the construction never finished, William Hearst lived in this mansion and made it a showcase for displaying his antique collection and a destination of parties for celebrities. This flamboyant castle costs 500 millions in today’s worth of money. There was even a zoo and a private air jet port. A private train trail delivered food and workers; transported stones, cement, wood, tiles, metals, along with ancient sculptures, paintings, furnitures and even exotic animals to furnish the castle. The guests and the host must feel so proud with its grandeur and seclusiveness.
Did Mr. Hearst foresee the flipside of the glamour? Could he imagine not only he, but also his family eventually cannot hold onto this great estate? Lamenting the end of festive parties had appeared thousands of years ago in Chinese literature. One says, “Gone the guests, empty, the palace!” The other, “No banquet doesn’t end.” What I saw in this castle reminded me a scene in the film Citizen Kane, which was inspired by Hearst’s true story – the dark, humongous but empty room devoured a tiresome old man who sat alone in front of the giant hollow fireplace. In the film. This old rich man, Kane, died alone in regret of losing the simplicity and innocence of his life. Being surrounded by these objects, which were composed by powerful wealth, and witnessing the haunting reality of impermanent, I felt chilly.