Tuesday, 4 December 2007

My life as an Amy Tan novel... Taiwan continued...

I can't believe I'm writing such personal stuff but I feel it's very cathartic and cleansing to get it all out...

My parents being typically Chinese don't talk about the past that much, or about 'taboo' subjects. I have to pry and pry and sometimes they will open up. During his time here, my dad and I had a heart to heart over Xi yang shen (or American Ginseng). We were both stuffing Xiyanshen powder into clear gelatine capsules whilst having a big 'heart to heart' chat. After two hours it still looked like we had hardly done anything. I can't believe it took so long!

Anyway for some reason or another we got talking about his parents (my paternal grandparents) and he was telling me stories of their lives when he was only a small child. So small that he cannot even remember the story and only knows from what they told him. He tells me that first of all, they were set up by a matchmaker. They were both living in Fujian province at the time. As in Chinese tradition, my grandmother moved in with my in-laws. Apparently my great uncle (grandfather's older brother) and great grandfather were horrible and mean to her. In 1947 at the age of 18 my grandmother gave birth to my father. In 1949, during the Nationalist-Communist Civil War the family moved to Taiwan. They had a reasonable life in China but now had practically nothing and were dirt poor. My poor grandmother... My father tells me she had to walk at least 2km each way on some crappy little dirt path, wearing shoes that were falling apart, whilst carrying 4 young children, to buy the food. Then she'd have to come back carrying the 4 children as well as the food. For those that don't know the summers in Taiwan are stifling and oppressive - not only hot but intensely humid (much more so than Shanghai - afterall, it is an island in the tropics).

My mother also told me some amazing tales of her mother's life before she was born. My mother's family are from Zhejiang province and my grandfather was in the army and the family was fairly wealthy. My grandmother didn't have to lift a finger and had multiple servants to serve her every need. After moving to Taiwan that all changed. They had nothing and had to start from scratch. My maternal grandmother ended up having 7 children, of which my mother was the youngest. She's told me stories like only having one pair of shoes per year and having chocolate once a year (usually Chinese New Year) and savouring every little tiny morsel.

Neither my father or mother had TVs or washing machines growing up. I am constantly being told how lucky I am to have these things. I was told when I was kid and didn't understand but of course now I understand and feel so grateful and lucky to be so spoilt and have such an easy life when they did not. I got driven to school every day, picked up from school or caught the school bus. My parents had to walk far distances - rain, hail or shine.

My mother had some big familiy secret that she didn't tell me till I was 12 years old. 12! I was angry she didn't tell me earlier and kept it from me for such a long time.

My father has told me things about my mother and what she was like before I was born and even before he met her (heard from other older relatives). My parents were also set up by matchmakers! They got married legally in Taiwan and soon after moved to the United States for the sole purpose of having children there, so that we would attain US citizenship. They had their wedding banquet in Los Angeles and I was born 1 year and 1 day after they were married, with my sister following 2 3/4 years later.

A few months after that they decided to move and were either going to choose Canada (Vancouver) or Australia (Melbourne). They crossed Vancouver off the list only because it was too cold and so we moved to Melbourne. My sister was only 7 months at the time and had a long haul international flight for the first time of her life. After a year or so in Melbourne it was concluded that the weather sucked (and it does!) and contributing way too much to my asthma, and they moved north to the biggest city of Sydney. This was in 1981 and we remained there ever since (where the weather was better/warmer/predictable but my asthma still remained).

Now I have family in China, Taiwan, the United States, Canada and Australia. I feel a bit sad that I grew up without any (none whatsoever) extended family around me but hey, you can't have everything! I guess I feel privileged to lead such an easy life and so amazed that my older relatives have gone through so much and come out so strong.

(oh my dad also told me he felt that first-borns were smarter, and of course I had to agree ;) I have big shoes to fill as the first born, of a first born, of a first born!)


Xi yang shen / American Ginseng

My dad's been making me take this stuff for years, my whole life probably and not once did I even think to find out the English name for it ... until now. It looks like a dried root and my dad grinds it up into a powder himself. To make it easier/convenient to take we put it in capsules.

For the quantity it is quite expensive. However, not as expensive as the ginseng we saw at Carrefour... almost 60,000 RMB for 160g! No, that is not a typo!!

So not only did I not know the English name for it, I didn't even know what it would do for me. I guess I just trusted him. Well, now that I've looked it up it is supposed to help with:

increasing resistance to environmental stresses, general tonic, stimulant, diuretic, digestive aid, anemia, diabetes, insomnia, neurasthenia, gastritis, impotence, fever, hangover, immune function, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pseudomonas infections in cystic fibrosis, aging, stamina, blood and bleeding disorders, atherosclerosis, loss of appetite, vomiting, colitis, dysentery, cancer, insomnia, neuralgia, rheumatism, memory loss, dizziness, headaches, convulsions, and disorders of pregnancy and childbirth.

Wow! Sounds like a miracle herb! :D Go check it out if you are interested. I am mainly taking it now to help build up my immunity towards nasty colds and flu for this winter. (you cannot and should not take it if you are already sick though).

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