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.

disneylandAfter an entire month of being imprisoned with our baby, Henry wanted to arrange an outing–something totally new and exciting!–for me and Anelise. He asked, “What are the most ‘desirable’ places for foreigners to visit in Southern California?” The popular destinations were discussed: Disneyland, Hollywood, Universal Studios, and so forth. Henry and I, the two adults, didn’t care where we went. Our main concern was what Anelise would want most. “Would you like to go to DISNEYLAND?” we asked her, heavily stressing the last word. Anelise nodded excitedly and smiled wide, exposing the gap where her two front teeth used to be. However, I was certain she would have responded this way to anything we offered. This five-year-old girl, so young yet so mature, never asked or begged us for anything. We presented her with the option we assumed all kids would want: Disneyland. There was no option fancier than this one for a kid.

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dumplingWe shared dumplings with our next door neighbor, Robert. Robert was an 80-something retired mailman. His wife was deceased, and his grown-up children lived far away with their own families. “The only time they visit is during the holiday season,” Robert told us with a smile. Not long after we moved in, Robert knocked on our door and handed us a nice plate of cookies, his hands trembling. He welcomed us to the complex and his voice was simultaneously warm and excited, aged and coarse. Afterwards, whenever he saw us, he would go inside to get a handful of chocolate for Anelise.

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teaAfter Angela’s birth, I couldn’t hold up my end of the carpooling responsibilities. In Chinese custom, there are many restrictions on a newborn baby’s mother. For one whole month, they’re not allowed to go out, eat cold foods, or touch water. They aren’t even allowed to leave the bed! They are required to eat the same dish every day—chicken cooked with sesame oil and wine—and drink a bitter herb tea. Obediently, I did not go out that month. I was very lucky and grateful to have my sister-in-law, Sue. Despite her busy work schedule at the post office, she managed to bring me chicken and tea everyday and took over my carpooling duties.

Then the month ended and I went back to my carpooling job. It was then that I noticed that Sylvia, Cindy’s mother, might be having a hard time with the carpooling arrangement. One morning when I was waiting outside for Cindy, I saw three toddlers playing inside a fenced-off area of the living room. After a brief talk, I realized that Sylvia worked as a nanny. I imagined her struggle. In addition to our two girls, she also had to put three other babies in her car seats. I wondered how she’d done it in the past. I immediately offered a solution: I’d take over the carpooling duties, and she’d take care of the babies, including Angela. After that, our morning routine became calm and smooth.

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taiwanflThe two main reasons people around the world leave their country and flock to America: to seek political freedom and to establish a better life. According to US Census Bureau data, America accepted 13.2 million new immigrants between 1990 and 2000. Taiwanese participation in this global diaspora started very early. In the 60s, it was common for college graduates—especially ones from prominent universities—to set their sights on America. A well-known saying at the time was “Come, come, come/ Come to the National University/ Go, go, go/ Go to America!” Most of these graduates, after earning their degrees, chose to stay in the US and become citizens. After World War II, America became a world super power in politics and economy. It was easy to see the attraction. Kids elsewhere were going to school without shoes. They watched American television and grew up with images of American kids riding around in colorful cars and living in nice houses with big gardens.

Political instability was another factor contributing to Taiwanese people’s emigration. In the early 1970’s, the Chiang Kai-Shek regime, an important ally of the Asian anti-communist countries, was severely threatened. America was heading to end the cold war after failing in the prolonged and painful Vietnam War. In 1972, to the world’s surprise, President Nixon paid an official visit to communist China. Worse still for Taiwan, the United Nations forcefully ousted Taiwan from its position as one of the five founders of the UN Security Council and gave its seat to China. To add insult to injury, it mercilessly expelled Taiwan from the UN immediately following a big strike. Since then, the world has labeled Taiwan not an independent country, but a rebel of China.

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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.

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When I was a kid, I had to find inventive ways to get my hands on a book. At the time, we couldn’t simply “check out books from the library.” Additionally, book-buying wasn’t a priority in my family of seven (we all relied on my father’s modest income). To read, I had to find resources of my own—my own “libraries.” At a neighbor’s house, I would settle unobtrusively in a corner. As I enjoyed the adventure stories, I’d look up and carefully observe my neighbor’s faces. Could I detect any signs of annoyance? Was I spending too much time at their house? If they didn’t mind my presence, I would continue reading. I was also known to stay and stand in bookstores for hours at a time, not leaving until the owner asked me to. Newspapers, my father’s political magazines, and my mother’s loaned novels were my secret friends. (When my parents saw me reading things other than textbooks, they told me “leisure books” were useless.)

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Dear Futurelink Parents,

It’s been many years since I first noticed the inevitable signs of aging—I couldn’t read with my contact lenses, I gained weight for no reason, my blood pressure was abnormally high, and I developed a chronic pain caused by spinal misalignment. It seemed the stress of making a living in this New World had taken its toll on me. Some time between battling my stubborn physical ailments and running the ever-busy Futurelink School, my two daughters, along with hundeds of other Futurelink students, had grown into adults. (If I bump into a Futurelink alumni and see a baby calling them mommy or daddy, I wouldn’t be surprised). Everything went by in a snap, and before I knew it, twenty years had passed! Now, whenever I see you and your children, I think of me, my daughters, my family, and the lives we’ve made together. Thinking back on the past, I came up with this idea to share my family’s immigration experience with you. It all started with the birth of Ms. Angela in America (so you know I’m old enough to narrate a memoir!)

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Just a friendly reminder that our summer school open house is this Friday, August 16th, from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

There will be short student presentations, refreshments, and displays of student work. You will be able to see samples of student writing and various projects from student’s extracurricular classes. Open house is also a great opportunity to speak with Futurelink teachers regarding your student’s performance and behavior. Siblings, grandparents, and relatives are all welcome to attend!

Classroom visits and self-guided school tours will be from 5:00 to 6:00 pm. Performances will begin at 6:00 pm.

Please park your car off-site to prevent potential traffic jams or parking mishaps. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.