Archive for the 'Relationships' Category

One Year in Vietnam

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My maid, Tram, showing off one of her dishes, fried pho noodles.
Deep fried rice noodles topped with sliced beef and a sauce of green vegetables, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

One year ago, my domestic helper, Tram, started working for us soon after we arrived in Vietnam. I had my concerns about having a maid, not the least of which is calling her a maid because that’s what they’re called in Asia. While we’ve had some misunderstandings, I’ve grown to appreciate having Tram’s help around the house.

She buys fresh produce for us from the local market where foreigners often pay double the price. She helps with ironing and dishes in addition to cooking local Vietnamese food for us a few times a week. She’s also great company when we go to the park or out for groceries.

Most importantly, Stephen likes her and feels comfortable with her. It’s a relief to be able to ask her to babysit him when I need to get a haircut every few months. She is even more trustworthy because she used to be a kindergarten teacher before her own daughter was born eight years ago.

When I was preparing myself to be a good employer, I read Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy ed. by Arlie Russell Hochschild and Barbara Ehrenreich. This book plus many of the other articles and books I’ve read about employing nannies and housekeepers reminded me to treat her fairly especially when it comes to salary. So, to celebrate the one year she has spent with us, I gave her a 10% raise.

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People I Admire

Despite the historical significance of Pope John Paul II’s death, I have to admit that he had no direct effect on my life. Certainly, the global chain of events stemming from his actions as Pope affected me to some degree, but in response to ’s question, he was not someone who inspired me.

For our eighth grade speech contest, we were asked to give a speech about someone we admired. Although I can’t remember who I focused on in my speech back then, I would have no shortage of people to talk about now.

I admire…

  • My father who had the courage to leave Taiwan, the country where he spent over 30 years of his life, to strive for a better life for himself and his young family in the U.S.
  • My mother whose resourcefulness helped guarantee our success even though she had to speak a foreign language, live in the Midwest for a while, and learn how to drive.
  • My sister who was a dedicated high school teacher and assistant principal and now tries to make our world a better place by policing the Internet.
  • My husband who supports our family through dedication, honesty, and hard work – rare traits in this selfish world.
  • My mother-in-law who has maintained her love of life despite many bumps along the way and who is more kind and generous to me than I deserve.
  • My domestic helper who lived through the Vietnam War and yet remains cheerful and kind hearted.
  • My aunt who cares for an invalid husband without complaint.
  • My friends around the world who are doing important work in public health and medicine.
  • My housekeepers who clean my apartment and over ten others six days out of the week, and allow Stephen to jump on the beds while they attempt to tidy up.
  • Every single one of you who take the time to reach out to me and make me feel interconnected.

Inspiration is all around me; just an arm’s length away.

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Family History

Last Thursday, while visiting my paternal grandmother at the apartment she shares with my uncle and aunt, I realized that I had a significant amount of DNA in common with 5 out of 6 people there. That night, at dinner with my mom’s oldest brother and wife plus his oldest son and family, 6 out of 8 people had DNA from the same ancestors as me. And on last weekend’s trip to visit various scenic spots along the way to Ilan, it was 9 out of 12 people. These numbers are significant for me because I grew up without any extended family nearby; most of the time I had DNA in common with just 3 people – my mom, dad, and younger sister.

The feeling of kinship is becoming harder to achieve as people, including me, have fewer children and family trees thin out. It’s not just DNA that binds us all together because if it were just genetic material, I’d have something in common with almost all living things. To my surprise, I was comfortable hanging out with my extended relatives despite not having seen them in many years. I also felt free to do and say what I wanted without fear of rejection. I think this was all possible because of our shared memories.

Some remember my mother as a toddler chasing after her older sister when she sneaked away on her bike at night. Others remember how exciting it was when my mother returned bearing gifts from the big city, Taipei, to their hometown which was then considered to be in the boondocks. My relatives were with us at the airport when my dad emigrated to the U.S. My cousins remember my terrible temper tantrums and how I loved to read. And we all remember how adorable my sister was with her big big eyes.

When Marv and I lived in Taiwan from 1998-9, I made very little effort to see my relatives. Although I sort of regret that, I now realize that I needed my parents there too to bridge the gap. Even better, this time I was there with Stephen, my contribution to the family tree. Now more people will have memories of him to share and memories to share with him. From now on, I pledge to do my best to foster Stephen’s connection with family even as we continue to move around the world.

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Marriage has been good to me. I was fortunate enough to have found Marv fairly quickly. We became friends during our sophomore year at Stanford, became a couple half-way through our junior year, and got married a week after graduation. We had a few minor bumps before and after marrying, but none that would make me discourage someone from considering marriage. On the other hand, I would never try to convince someone that marriage was absolutely necessary for a happy life.

The matchmakers in this week’s New York Times Magazine article, however, think that everyone is searching for a mate. To them, everyone can and should be married.

Matchmakers believe that people should stop their agonized search for soul mates. After all, a soul mate can be glimpsed in many inappropriate objects: the soul may be located in someone who is too young or too old or too poor or the wrong religion or a convicted felon who is married to your sister.

The new matchmakers take a traditional approach. They believe that people do and should marry within their tribes.

These women (and why is it always women, not men?) know what they’re talking about. Early in my dating experience, I thought I was destined to be with someone, anyone, who was not Chinese. And who did I end up with? A man from my tribe. A Chinese tribe that values academic achievement, financial security, and filial piety.

Many of my friends, most of whom also happen to belong to the same tribe, are married by now. Some are still single and half-heartedly searching. Some try Internet dating services because they seem to be a low effort way of meeting someone and there are more and more couples today who first met online. But, I would guess that the success rate of these online services is dismal with a high probability of misrepresentation.

For people with money, a matchmaker of the caliber described in the NY Times would be ideal. It takes $20,000 for the initiation fee and $1,000 per year to be set-up on 12 dates. Even if I had the money, I’d probably choose to spend it on something else. Because this is the advice you’d get from one of them:

Behind all of Samantha’s counsel is a simple message: if you want to marry, don’t blow it. Play ball, don’t rock the boat, avoid controversy, get along, don’t drag her or him into heavy conversations. Go out, have sex, take trips. Eventually, you’ll become comfortable, and attachment will grow, and pretty soon you’ll be cruising on a lane toward that tollbooth, and it’s harder to get off than to go forward. It’s not just that you should delay turning on that bright light of serious scrutiny (Is this really the right relationship for me?), which inevitably produces ambivalence; you should leave it off forever.

I do have to admit that the light of serious scrutiny in our home is pretty dim.

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Just Joking

Marv came back from a three-day business trip to Indonesia yesterday. When the door opened, he stood there and asked me, “What’s missing?” Because I’d had an especially difficult day with Stephen full of him throwing tantrums, screaming, and hitting, I answered, “Did you get a vasectomy?”

My joke flew past him. Turned out the airlines had lost the golf clubs he’d agonized over before buying in Japan and that aren’t available anywhere else in the world. It’s been 24 hours and still no sign of them.

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