East Meets West

east-westYears ago one of my grandson’s was building a family tree at school. He reported to his class that he was half Chinese. Since he had blonde hair and blue eyes his teacher was somewhat confused about his claim. She hesitated to accuse him of making up a tale, but found it difficult to believe that he had even a smidgen of Asian heritage in his DNA. She emailed my daughter to determine why he might think such a thing. That only seemed to confound the puzzlement, so my daughter went to the source and asked her little boy why he felt that he was half Chinese. He innocently asserted that he had come to that conclusion because half of the people at our family parties were Chinese, and he knew them as relatives, so he had come to the conclusion that he must indeed be of Asian decent as well. The mystery was solved.

One of my brothers married a lovely woman from Taiwan many years ago. He was working for a NASA contractor and so was she when he met her at a meeting. He was immediately taken by her beauty, intellect and personality and in a fashion that was totally uncharacteristic of him, he set out to find her and ask her for a date. He learned that her last name was Liu, and he began calling all of the people in the phone book who shared that same name. Eventually he got lucky and actually reached her when she was visiting a friend who was also named Liu. He was smitten from the beginning and it wasn’t long before they were both in love.

Becky has brought so much wonder to our family. Aside from introducing us to the the history and exquisiteness of her culture, she has shared her family members who melded with us as though we had all been born to be together. It is little wonder that my grandson believed that he was related to her parents and siblings by blood. They have faithfully stood by our sides through celebrations and tragedies. All the while they have taught us extraordinary lessons about generosity and determination.

Becky was born in mainland China before it was taken over by Mao and the communists. Her father had been a professor of physics and an officer in the army. He was from a family of intellectuals that included a newspaper editor who had spoken out against the revolutionaries. When the political takeover of the country came, Becky’s parents knew that they must flee with their children. Her older sisters recall being dressed in many layers of clothing into which their mother had sewn money and valuables to use as barter for their safe passage our of the country. At the time they did not fully understand what was happening, but they sensed that it was something dangerous and frightening as they made the long journey of escape.

Becky grew up in Taiwan with two sisters and two brothers. All of them were studious and worked hard to earn the opportunity to travel to American universities to earn degrees in sciences, engineering, and computers. Eventually they became citizens and brought their parents to live with them. They emphasized hard work and academics with their children who grew up as peers of my own girls. In reality all of the kids thought of themselves as cousins and were as close as they might have been if their bloodlines had been from the same tree.

We found ways to get together as a family on birthdays, for Thanksgiving and at Christmas and Easter. We celebrated births and milestones, like graduations and marriages. They introduced us to the Chinese opera and dim sum. We sat around a hot pot and laughed and told stories while sharing feasts. We marveled at the many successes of the youngsters who grew up to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, business men and women. My grandchildren played with theirs and the extended family grew and grew.

My mother thought of Becky’s mother as her very best friend. The two of them often sat together smiling and holding hands. They accompanied my brother and Becky on trips all over the United States and never exchanged a cross word. Becky honored my mom as is customary in Asian culture, opening her heart and her home to Mama without reservation and with the deepest regard and respect. I often felt humbled by the love that Becky and her siblings gave so unconditionally to our clan, even when my mother’s bipolar disorder made her less than congenial.

We have all been blessed and enriched by our association with Becky. She has given us a great gift that has made us better than we might have been. She has quietly taught us how to embrace differences and the importance of allowing our adventurous spirits to soar freely. I suspect that if we were to be honest we would have to agree with my grandson that through our many interactions we have all become part Chinese. Our eyes have been opened to the wondrous history and contributions of the east where there was a highly advanced culture long before our western civilization began to form. We have learned just how much more beautiful life is when we see the world through the viewpoints of the people of many different nations and races. Becky was the catalyst for our transformation from the ordinary.

To this very day Becky is extraordinary. She looks like a gorgeous movie or rock star in her Facebook profile photo. She spent decades doing incredible things at NASA, contributing to the betterment of science and space exploration. She excels at virtually everything that she attempts. Most recently she has taken up painting and quilting with the most incredible results. I have to say that I have been somewhat in awe of her for most of my adult life, but now the two of us are able to just sit together quietly like her mother and my mother once did. We are bound by our roles as wives, mothers, grandmothers and sisters. Family has become our most important pursuit and we find ourselves quite happy that we are in the same one. I hope that just maybe Becky has enjoyed learning about us as much we have been about getting to know her. It has been remarkable experiencing our moments of east meeting west.

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