Monday, January 25, 2010

Goodbye Ye Ye

James' 23rd birthday party in Taipei

I got the sad news James' grandfather passed away yesterday. He was 93. Thankfully, James' mom is in Taiwan now and she got to say goodbye. I'm glad James and I were able to see Ye Ye regularly when we lived there.

I have to admit, my interactions were limited: Originally from Canton, Ye Ye mostly spoke in Cantonese (I speak Mandarin). And his contributions to the lunchtime conversation were typically "you gave me too much rice" and "no more soup." When I first arrived, he did call me "beautiful" (in English) when James' grandma prompted.

Ye Ye fought for freedom in World War II/War of Resistance Against Japan (in Chinese). I don't know details, except that he was shot by the Japanese.

In 1949, Ye Ye came with Chiang Kai-shek's military to Taiwan. Things were tough. Ye Ye and Nai Nai (grandma) farmed for awhile. They were very poor. Again, I don't know many details, except that James' mom's idea of fun as a teenager was to split the cost of a watermelon with friends and take it to the beach, by bus.

Because of the hostility between China and Taiwan, Ye Ye couldn't contact his family for years. On the mainland, Communist Party officials would come around asking his family about him. His father always said he didn't know where his son was. Through a combination of luck and hometown connections, Ye Ye was able to send word he was alive and living in Taiwan before his father died.

That's a lot of hardship. But Ye Ye helped raise three successful children: An economics professor turned deputy minister in Taiwanese government; A small-business owner in Los Angeles; and James' mom - a Chinese teacher who has volunteered countless hours organizing cultural and educational events for the Alaska Chinese Association.

As Montgomery Gentry has sung in its cheesy country song: That's something to be proud of. And for us youngsters - that's something to be humbled by.

Goodbye, Ye Ye. You will be missed.

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