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。

 

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