Sunday, June 22, 2008


In 1969, everything changed for my grandmother. All the children were across the ocean, and her husband had been ill for several years. The doctors were never quite sure what was wrong with him, but the symptoms got worse and worse, with my grandfather unable to eat, (apparently his inability to eat his favorite dish, named "lion's head" a meatball type dish made by my grandmother). He was diagnosed with liver cancer and died in Hong Kong.

My grandfather had already established himself as a pastor of a small church in Hong Kong, and i am told the community was incredibly helpful. Nevertheless, most of the family was still in the United States. My father came back, and is shown here in the picture with my grandmother at my grandfather's funeral.

With the family in the United States, my grandmother had little choice but to leave Hong Kong and join the rest of the family in the U.S. .

It is hard really to quantify or talk about my grandfather and his death's influence on my grandmother. I never knew him, as he died before i was born, and my grandmother almost never spoke of him. And yet, he was always around her in a way. They were married for around 35 years, and had literally gone through hell and back. My grandmother never remarried, and it is difficult for me to even imagine it. She was always dressed sparingly, and from i could tell her primary concerns were the family, and doing the chores. She was mostly unconcerned with social networking, though she did enjoy gossiping and comparing her age to other people. In a way she seemed like the ideal widow.

But she was only 55 at the time of my grandfather's death, and i wonder if her life may not have been more joyful if instead of playing the dutiful widow, she got remarried. As a kid i thought what she was doing was so romantic, now, i just wish she could have found more joy later in life.

Anyhow, life changed dramatically as she moved from Hong Kong to the United States.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The new world

My grandmother came to the United States in 1970. She didn't speak a word of english and as i mentioned earlier, despite her best efforts she never did get the hang of it.

She lived with my aunt in NYC and went to work at a factory in the garment district. I know that these factories were incredibly exploitive and treated its workers horribly, but at the same time my grandmother took incredible pride at her work and her salary. In Hong Kong she would make money, but it wasn't on a salary basis, it was always the sort of work that you can get paid immediately at the time. In the United States she got to feel the joy of the paycheck.

Around the same time period grandchildren were being born, and she took her role as a grandmother very seriously. As near as i could tell she lived with all her grandchildren for a short period of time as they were being born. However it was Jon that she ended up staying with and living with.

The picture above is of her with Jon as a baby. My grandmother would earn money from here on out by taking care of children, neighborhood kids once in a while, and always Jon. She lived with my aunt and uncle and during her time there, she would help around the house, cooking, cleaning and laundry. Whenever i would stay over for a period of time i always remember her walking to the A&P (which was like 8 blocks away) to do the grocery shopping. There weren't many chinese in that part of New Jersey, so her tried and true shopping method was to point and ask "how much?" or just simply point and say "please".