Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When the pilot announced as we were landing in Portland that the temperature was 48°, many of us passengers incoming from heat-weary Los Angeles gasped in delight.  Since Wednesday, I have reveled in the alternating clear crispness and drizzle of the Northwest fall.

Around the edges of my conference schedule, I reveled in exploring downtown Portland, in general.  How could I not like a city which claims an independent bookstore as its number one tourist attraction?  Throw in its Czech streetcar system and food cart “pod” on my hotel block, and I didn’t want to leave.

With each passing year, I’ve found myself more involved in the national association which gives me an annual autumnal chance to visit a new city or return to a favorite one.  As of this meeting, I’m now the vice president/president-elect; with this appointment, I felt the obligation to show up for all of the breakfast hours, meet new people during the breaks, and move association business forward during the receptions.   

Fortunately, this association membership is comprised of mostly humanities and social sciences professors and dean types, other folks like me who are often high-performing introverts: people who have learned how to command attention to run a workshop, or give a decent conference address, but who, after only so much of being “on,” need to retreat for some solitary time. 

So when I ran into one of my best friends on the board at Powell’s bookstore during the late Friday afternoon concurrent session time, we did not feel the need to justify to one another why we both were playing hooky.  As she said, she needed to read a book by that point, rather than listen to other people talking about them.  Instead, we traded notes on where we had already been, and what other destinations we thought we could get in before the rain and evening program closed in on us.

I made it over to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, built on a parking lot by merchants in Portland’s small Chinatown in 2000.  Sixty-five artisans from Suzhou worked with rock and other materials imported from China to create what is considered the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China.  The 16th-century gardens, scenery, and artisan crafts made Suzhou my favorite city when Bing and I visited China in1992, and I could have sworn I was back in China.  I hope to come back to this garden to eat dumplings in the tea house. 

Our Reed College conference hosts arranged for a post-conference excursion through the Columbia River Gorge area.  At the helm of my van was a Reed biology professor who is an expert on many topics, including Lewis and Clark.  As we stopped to see salmon hatcheries and spawning areas, waterfall vistas, and forest trails, he read from their observations at those places or areas.  He was so fascinating and the area so beautiful that we didn’t mind being out at some points in the rain.  Just as we were returning to downtown Portland, a double rainbow broke out in the setting sun. 

As I was saying my goodbyes to my fellow officers last night before heading to the airport, the ones I know best commented on how they were glad to see the “old me” again.  They who see me at six-month intervals said they could tell I was running out of steam at the past board meetings and conferences and that they were buoyed to see me back at my energetic self.  It’s always nice to have the change of pace which the association business brings, and this year especially it was nice to daydream about an urban life in Portland.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Every now and then, your child asks you a question which wrenches your heart.  They don’t mean to, of course; the question just does. 

I can tell you exactly when Akemi asked me one such question.  She was climbing out of the car, four years old, and asked, “Mommy, what is my Chinese name again?”

We had arrived that September Saturday morning at the San Gabriel Valley Chinese Cultural Association Chinese School in West Covina, delivering Akemi to her first day of Mandarin class.  Bing and I had researched and considered this all very carefully.  For utility in global communication, we voted for Mandarin over Cantonese or Japanese.  Besides, we weren’t living near his Cantonese-speaking family to take advantage of any heritage learning, and we also ruled out Japanese because Japanese schools in our area are for native Japanese-speaking young people whose parents want them to keep up their reading and writing skills.  Bing attended Chinese school growing up, learning Mandarin, and even switched to Palo Alto High so he could continue Mandarin studies there.  His Mandarin was pretty serviceable; he chatted amiably with taxi drivers in Beijing and bargained with vendors throughout our 1992 China trip for souvenirs.  He was on deck to help with the homework.

On the basis of three hours once a week, we didn’t expect that she’d learn all that much.  We realized that, growing up apart from his extended, close family, she wouldn’t otherwise get much exposure to Chinese culture, or at least the Chinese-American version of the culture.  Bing decided on the SGVCCA school, even though it was much farther away than other Chinese schools, precisely because it was run by Chinese-American families similar to his, as opposed to Taiwanese transplants.  When he went out there to meet the principal and check out the school, he liked what he saw, and signed her up.  Our linguistic bet was that by exposing her to the tones at a young age, she’d at least get the benefit of some child language acquisition capacity.  And maybe she’d get to college and want to study abroad. 

But all of our resolve and rationalization about how good this would be for her quivered at that moment when we were getting out of the car and I realized we were throwing her into the great unknown.  “Ming Mei,” I answered, “Leung Ming Mei.”  I added, “You’ll be fine,” more for my benefit than hers.

We all hung in there, until school work and Colburn, mostly, overtook her Saturdays.  After five years of Chinese school and lessons, she could tell you she liked chocolate ice cream, could sing a few songs, and recite a few poems.  Here she is in one of the Chinese new year festival presentations.  She learned a Chinese dance, marched with the school in a rainy Los Angeles Chinatown parade, mastered a handful of characters, and calligraphied a bamboo painting for her grandparents.  Her crowning glories were writing her great-grandmother Po Po Don Fuey a thank you note for lai see, red envelope money, in recognizable characters, and reading some street signs when we were in Hong Kong.  If anything else, it meant a lot to Bing’s parents that we at least made the effort.  His mother said more than once that she only had one grandchild attend Chinese school, and that it was her Japanese daughter-in-law who made that happen (I guess I got the credit because I was doing the driving).

You can imagine the validation when Akemi told me she was signing up for Mandarin I at Tufts this fall semester.  Her senior year, the fourth year out of five, and she finally had an inch of room in her schedule to take something “for fun.”  That she would devote an elective to taking beginning Mandarin was, well, saying something.  “Dad would be so happy,” I said, “Just as he and I had hoped.”

Turns out that Chinese school got her through about the first three classes.  Having the tones in her ear in fact has helped, as had the practice writing characters when she was little.  She made me laugh when she said she heard her teacher say a sentence that she remembered hearing in Chinese school, but that she didn’t understand then – the sentence turned out to be “Do you have any questions?”  She also realizes now all those little character books that her Chinese school teachers had her color and put together actually have a pretty useful structure.  I’ve saved all of her Chinese school work, and now maybe she’ll get a big kick out of seeing it with demystified eyes.  She says the number of characters they are expected to learn each week has really ramped up, but it sounds like she is hanging in there.  She likes languages, and is good at them.

So I feel relieved of my first-day-of-Chinese-school heartwrench that we didn’t traumatize her irreparably, and that the sacrifice and commitment to Chinese school did turn out to have some benefit.  Now if she can order for us at Din Tai Fung, a favorite dumpling house – that will have made all that driving worth it.   

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My brothers and I had our childhood routines, sitting on the floor in front of our black-and-white TV in our Downey family room.  We watched “Captain Kangaroo” in the mornings and a carefully negotiated schedule of cartoons on Saturday mornings.  During the week, we had lunch with Sheriff John. 

Sheriff John was my generation’s “Mr. Rogers,” I think, with his gentle, encouraging manner.  He taught us the “Pledge of Allegiance,” how to look both ways before crossing the street, and always to say “please” and “thank you.”  Sometime someone drew some pictures and sometimes he told a story.  Then he brought out a birthday cake and said happy birthday to lots of boys and girls.  I wondered how he knew that those kids had their birthdays that day.

Then we all sang a birthday song:

“Put another candle on my birthday cake.
We’re gonna bake a birthday cake.
Put another candle on my birthday cake.
I’m another year old today.”

I can sing you that song right now. 

I haven’t thought about Sheriff John in years, until yesterday when I read in the Los Angeles Times that he had died at the age of 93.  I confess I didn’t know he was still alive.  It didn’t even occur to me as a five-year-old that he wasn’t a real sheriff, or that he even would have a last name.  So it was a little startling, and yet fascinating, to read in his obituary that he was a KTTV news announcer who came up with the concept himself of a segment during which he’d dress in a khaki uniform with badge and hat to read cartoons to kids. 

Well, thank you, Sheriff John.  We ate many a bologna or salami sandwich with you, at the low “TV table” our dad made expressly for this purpose (no peanut butter, because my mother thought it was better that we ate “meat”).  We blew out many an imaginary birthday candle with you.  I hope you had as much fun as we did.  It sounds as if you did. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I recently received a lovely gift of creamed honey, gathered and purveyed by the Cistercian Nuns of the Redwoods Monastery.  Accompanying the jar of honey was the current "Michaelmas" issue of The Valerymo Chronicle, the newsletter of St. Andrew's Abbey, a Benedictine order in California's high desert.  

In between "ModPo" assignments, I have been chewing through this very nice publication.  To call it a newsletter doesn't do it justice, really.  It's more a compact literary journal, with reflective essays interspersed with poetry written by a now-retired monk, artwork, and even a reprint of a homily from a special mass.  Come to think of it, it follows the format of our church's Ensign.  

Perhaps from my friendly exposure to Jesuits at Georgetown, the Leung heritage as converts from the Maryknoll missionary effort in China, and working in the liberal studies tradition greatly shaped by the role of the Catholic Church over the centuries, I have long felt comfortable with the Catholic vocabulary and perspectives.  

From the readings, two themes jumped out at me.  One was that the first word of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict is "listen": listen to the wisdom of God at work in our minds and hearts.  The second sprang from Genesis 50:20: "And God meant it unto good."  I had not paid attention before to this small phrase tucked away at the end of the story of Joseph in Egypt. 

Father Isaac Kalina, OSB, who took this scripture as the title of his essay, wrote that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and about how it was affecting his life -- not about how the pains and discomforts are affecting him, but rather how he is trying to use his condition for good.  

He writes, "Whenever any kind of disaster strikes, something goes wrong. . .know that there is another side to it, that you are just a step away from something incredible, something miraculous."  He calls that step "surrender to God's will," or to put it in our LDS vocabulary, to allow the Atonement to work within us.  He continues: "Eventually you arrive at the realization then to do what you have to do, whatever the situation requires.  This is the culmination of a life-lived-well, following in the steps of Jesus, our own sharing in [His] crucifixion.  We can pray that it become our Resurrection, too!  As inseparable as time and pain are for us here, they will never be found later in heaven. . . . Instead, there will arise an incredible stillness from within us, and there we will find a great peace.  Within that peace, we will discover unfathomable joy.  And within that joy, such a deep love -- one we have never known before on earth.  And at its innermost core, there is God waiting for us."  

Feeling as I now do, having been given the ability to step back from medical brink, and having done, and still am doing, what I had to do, I'm realizing I am coming out at the other end of the tunnel from this NHL trial of my own.  I'm starting to be able to see some good that has come from this.  I have been motivated to do things which I would have left undone, and am now very glad to have done.  I have been reminded of great love and have received incredible support.  The expert at deferred gratification, I have discovered more joy in the here and now, to appreciate the every day, and to celebrate every day.  

As I sip now my cup of chamomile tea with monastery clover honey, I give thanks for those who have listened to me, and who have helped me fight to blossom, and not wither, over the past two years.