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.
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。
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。