Dad’s Extended Visit

Dad’s been visiting from Taiwan for about a month now, and we’ve got another month to go. I know, you’re thinking Cue the thunder! Cue the lightning! But in fact, we’re having a good time–Dad may be the best roommate I’ve ever had. In any case, it’s been good to reconnect with family. I’m observing how he does things, trying to guess which habits are Taiwanese, Japanese, or good ole’ American.

Dad’s been teaching me a lot just by example. I’m receptive to his advice after many years of, you know, not really paying attention.

  • As I watched him prepare dinner, he told me to cut things small and evenly, so everything cooks fast and consistently. I knew this in theory from Iron Chef, but actually watching him do it and tasting the results spoke volumes more. Take the time to do it right! Cultural Influence? Asian.

  • If you clean up after yourself constantly, you will have a clean house! When he walks around the house, he automatically sees things that need to be arranged better or cleaned. I tend to be lost in thought, thinking about work. Within a matter of days, the house was pristine. Most impressively, this happened without a lot of drama. I must admit I am still not sure quite how this works, not being too picky about the way stuff piles up most of the time, but a clean house is nice. Cultural Influence? Probably just his upbringing. He says his Mom was very generous with “the spanking stick” until he told her that she didn’t have to do it anymore (he was 12 I believe).

Dad in 1964He’s been telling me a lot of stories: about his experiences coming to the United States in the late 50s, being ordained as a minister, and then serving in all-white communities. This was rather unusual at the time; he didn’t want to just be comfortable preaching in a Chinese/Taiwanese community. Not that there was a huge one anyway: immigration of Chinese was illegal from 1892 to 1943, when it was “opened” to 105 a year because pre-Communist China was one of the Allies in WWII. Dad arrived in 1957–the cap was raised in 1968.

  • He says that a young Connie Chung, then with a newspaper in Brighton, NY, interviewed him when he was installed in the church there as an assistant pastor. It would be cool to find that original article in the newspaper archives. He got in trouble back in Taiwan for saying certain things in that interview about liberty and freedom. Cultural Affinity? America! Yeah!

  • He talked about growing up in pre-WWII Taiwan, how they raised white ducks that would sometimes escape into local ponds and rivers. Since they were the only family with white ducks, people could recognize them and they’d tell Dad, and he would have to run and collect them. Cultural Influence certainly was a mix of Taiwanese rural life and maybe some Japanese; Taiwan was a colony of Japan for 50 years, having been part of the spoils of the Sino-Japanese War. It was “liberated” (perhaps more accurately described as “re-invaded”) at the end of WWII by the Nationalist Chinese, who later were pushed right out of China by the Communists to Taiwan. The whole Taiwan-China relationship is pretty complicated, made more intricate for Dad because the official culture until he was 16 was Japanese. He speaks fluently, and visits Japan every once in a while to visit friends and relatives. His Japanese is so good that the natives think he’s from there…they just can’t quite place which part of the country he’s from. :-)

  • Dad on poultry: “Duck meat…too oily for me.” This was a surprise to me, since both my sis and I love duck. Dad continues, “In Taiwan, the most expensive part of the chicken is the dark meat, like drumsticks and thighs. They import a lof of them from the U.S. Chicken breast is the cheapest part, no one likes it because they don’t know how to cook it.” Cultural Influence? America! And common sense…if it tastes good when you cook it, no sense in not eating it.

  • Dad is generous with his wisdom regarding which foods are best for “moving the bowels”. In the past I might have not have paid quite as much attention to this, but I’m hoping I have Dad’s genes for graceful aging. He looks 50 years old, his hair is thin but still black (just a touch of gray at the temple). He’s actually 74. He does 60 pushups before he goes to sleep and is on the Atkins maintenance diet. He looks so good, he gets carded back in Taiwan–for the senior citizens discounts, that is. So if plums, bananas, apples and yogurt are part of his regimen, I’m all for it. Cultural Influence? Probably more Asian here…he used to read a lot of Japanese diet and health books until I turned him on to Atkins. To my great surprise, he followed it and lost like 30 pounds, and didn’t have to take a lot of medicine after that. But Dad just does stuff like that. So maybe he should get an America! point here too.

  • It’s fascinating to hear about his executive experience reviving a seminary from total bankruptcy into self-sustaining operational soundness. I never really could ask him the right kinds of questions in years past, since I was kind of green with respect to management and leadership. Now that I’m thinking about those things more, suddenly I’m able to really appreciate the kind of man that Dad is. Cultural Influence? America! He brought back the ideals of leadership by example, speaking your mind, and open bookkeeping. Rock!

We haven’t done much activity-wise…I’ve been busy, Dad doesn’t really like eating out or socializing. We are planning on going antiquing. He enjoys looking at old things, and is trying to find a nice oil lamp that “isn’t made in China”. He buys either American or Taiwanese whenever he can. We also have been shopping for various life-improving gadgets for his apartment back in Taichung:

  • His foster son A-bun had seen an “amazing onion chopper” on TV back in Taiwan, and asked for one. America, in his mind, is the source of all gadgetry like this. We found a nice one by Oxo that should do the trick, along with some other nifty gadgets like a Mango De-pitter. Dad says that they have a lot of mangoes in Taiwan, so it would be a very useful gadget. Cultural Influence? Taiwanese and Americans share a love for gadgets. The difference is that kind of advertising they do over there would get you thrown in jail here in the States…incredible claims made that are outright fraudulent, from what I could tell on the TV (though admittedly my grasp of Mandarin or Taiwanese is very poor).

  • Dad was in the market for a new FAX machine, since he dislikes his current one. He’s been waiting for a good deal on the All-In-One Fax/Print/Scan/Copy machines. We were in Staples and were looking over the Brother All-In-Ones because they were so small. I had never thought of Brother as a brand I’d consider, but as we looked it over it seemed adequate enough. They were selling the Brother 420CN for $129, and the reviews on the net indicated that it was a feature-packed, well-designed (if not that rugged) light office machine. Dad mentally calculated that it was about 50% of what he’d pay in Taiwan, so we got it. So far, I have been very impressed by its design and functionality. Brother has been making office electronics for much longer than Epson or HP, and it shows in the details. The LCD menu system is remarkably straightforward. The little details, such as routing the USB cable out the back in a little trough, is a touch of functional elegance. That this $129 printer already is network ready out of the box is fantastic. It also has a digital photo card reader for all the major formats and (apparently) rock-solid Mac OS X support. On the down side, it’s a very light-use machine: the plastics are very thin, and the paper tray is only 100 sheets. But for the size and features–it also has a sheet feeder –it’s a great little machine. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess though. My Epson 900 is looking kind of long in the tooth now…I’m thinking of getting a Canon PIXMA iP5200R to replace it, but these multi-function devices are intriguing. At $129, it almost doesn’t make sense not to get one to have networked printing AND scanning from every computer in the house.

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p>Dad and Mom in 1967, before kids!He told me some stories about Mom that I hadn’t heard before. One that stuck in my mind was this: After a long day’s work battling the administrative demons, Dad would get back home and the only time he really would have to talk to Mom would be when they were going to sleep. He reflected on how they loved to talk, and sometimes they would be lying awake giggling about something funny that had happened that day. I remember hearing that mysterious giggling, but never really thought about what they might be talking about. It reminded me of Mom and how much I miss her. Dad and I were silent for several minutes, sipping our tea and remembering.