Tuesday, February 23, 2010


On our last night in Honduras, mom and dad took care of Emeth to give us some time by ourselves. We took a long stride by the ocean as the sun was setting.

While we walked, Hans told an elaborate story of a man trying to make his mark in history.

How he labored.

How sure he was of its worth and grandeur.

How all will see and be amazed, and remember its builder.

How it lasted.

Until the waves came.

It was a very sad story. A very true story.

Lord, let me be content with the ebb and flow of your waves.
May I see the foolishness in my desire for a sandy edifice.
Let me find joy in you, the Ocean.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Song of Ting Ming Hui, with Preface (Part III)

These were her words, composed when she was an old woman:
My unbound feet served as a bondage to my oath,
Taken for granted like the sun and the moon.
At least dignity was mine when I dug through dung,
When I believed I was your one and only, your only one.
Who can understand my anger, betrayed by one I love?
My voice fled like a bird when I arrived at your new door.
Silence is my only plea, silence--my cloak and protector.

Twice exiled, my heart and of my body,
Banished from my homeland, the country of my brothers.
Like animal without affection, I abandoned my young daughters.
Roaming in my own home like a foreigner in the land,
I neither spoke nor understood your tongue.
When is love ever equal? Who says love can be shared?
If I had known, I would not have come for you.
Such as one who looked for moon in the lake,
When I jumped in, you disappeared.

My daughters suffered, singing my song of bitterness,
I was unable to love them.
Walking in constant snare and stare of the Others,
My daughters were scorned and mocked, abandoned and beaten.
My wings were not wide enough to hide them.

Strong Jade is the name of my daughter,
Though Heaven may give me no son.
My daughter bears the mark of a Dragon,
Yet gentle as the ocean is deep.
Victorious in battles and beautiful are the sisters,
Eight with strength like the River, ever pressing on.*

Spirit has not flown from me,
Though my voice for a time might have ceased.
Though the bamboo might seem hallow,
Do not be deceived, air is not nothing.
One cannot bend me easily
Nor can one take my life,
For my roots go deep and my life is long
Striving towards the Heavens.
*The names of Ming Hui’s eight daughters: Jade Coral, Beautiful Jade, Jade Dragon, Victory in Battle , Aromatic Jade, Gentle Jade, Strong Jade, and Assured Triumph.

Life was difficult for my mother, whose name is Strong Jade (pei chiang). A masculine name was given to her because they were sure the seventh child must be a boy. My mother grew up with the expectations of the name placed on her.

At 25, she met my father. He proposed. Among her essential expectations? That he remains loyal. That she will always be his one and only, his only one. Together, they raised four daughters, who love their femininity.

This is the story of my grandmother and my mother, who ate bitterness for our unbound feet.

Part I
Part II

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Song of Ting Ming Hui, with Preface (Part II)

Preface, Part II

In their nine years of separation, Hing Yu returned to China only once, merely for a short visit. During their temporary union, Ming Hui came to be with-child, a third daughter. Overseas communication was difficult; it took months for a letter to reach its recipient. Driven once more by her will, Ming Hui left China to search for her husband. Money was scarce and she was only able to gather enough for herself and her youngest daughter, who was already seven. She was forced to leave her two older daughters behind in Fujian.

After a couple months journey, on foot and on water, Ming Hui finally arrived on the island of Java, Indonesia. At her husband’s door steps, she saw sandals -- feminine and others that can only fit children's feet. Only then Hing Yu told her that he was living with another woman and he already had two sons by her.

For the next few decades, the two women lived under the same roof. Ming Hui, though claimed the status of the principle wife, had five more daughters, eight daughters all together, no son. The second wife had five sons and two daughters, and made sure she received recognition for her position.

With her mind for business and skills in accounting, Ming Hui managed the household and her husband’s business. She accompanied him on all his business trips and served as the “public wife” of Lim Hing Yu. When he died, she lived for another 15 years, visiting her daughters living all over the world.

Part I
Part III

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Song of Ting Ming Hui, with Preface (Part I)

Among my impractical pursuits, I loved my studies of ancient Chinese women poets. The following is a piece I wrote about five years ago as as a study on pseudonym, archaism, and writing “in the spirit” of someone else. The tone of this piece intentionally reflects ancient scripts, i.e. choppy and redundant. I chose to write in the voice of my maternal grandmother.

I am the firstborn of four daughters. We each bear the Spirit (ling) in our names: Ai Ling, Shin Ling, Sze Ling, and Yee Ling. Growing up, Chinese relatives and friends often questioned my parents whether they were trying for a male offspring, which was never the case. My parents had decided on the number of children they desired long before any of us arrived. They thought four was a good number, and my youngest sister would agree.

My sisters and I are assured of our parents’ impartial favor and affection. Much of this is owned to my mother and grandmother's suffering. This is a story of a woman in her exile.
Preface, Part I

Ting Ming Hui was born the only daughter to a wealthy family in Fujian. Reflected in her name, she was an intelligent child. She was raised as the family’s treasure, receiving education equivalent to her seven brothers. Ming Hui was known particularly for her strength of will. She was the first woman in her family to have unbound feet. As a young child, she was conscious of her father’s tender heart, she screamed night and day, and begged for her feet to be free. Later, owing again to her strong will, she persuaded her parents to give her hand in marriage to the man she loved, Lim Hing Yu, a son to a rich merchant in town.

Their love story began triumphant and beautiful. Ming Hui bore two girls during their initial years of marriage. During the country’s political turmoil, in order to flee the draft for war, Hing Yu was forced by his family to escape to Indonesia. Ming Hui and her daughters were left behind the high walls of the Lim family, which was crumbling financially due to the economy. Soon, the Lim household lost all their businesses. Felt as though he had lost his face, Hing Yu’s father attempted suicide before his family. Ming Hui, the daughter-in-law, got on her knees and begged him to restrain himself, swore that she would provide for the household. Being the only woman in the family with unbound feet, she tended the garden, sold produce on the street, and fed the mouths of her in-laws, their children, and her own daughters. Once treated as a precious jewel, Ming Hui was collecting dung for fertilizer with her bare hands.

Part II
Part III

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Clean Hotel

As we set foot on the island of Roatan, Honduras, we were quickly greeted by the inefficiency of the hotel management. The transportation from the hotel was an hour late -- one unpleasant hour of being harassed by the heat and people who took advantage of gullible tourists for a living.

The ride to the hotel was quite adventurous. Emeth, being the well-protected American toddler, was for the first time in his life riding in a vehicle without a carseat. He sat in my lap, asleep, while the driver raced through small crooked streets without any signpost indicating that he needed to slow down. The local children continued to play, just inches away from speeding vehicles.

We were then directed to our hotel room for the week. I was curious to see what we've invested in. After all, we haven't spent money on vacation since our honeymoon.

The room was pretty. There was enough light, fairly clean. Another armchair would be nice, we thought. I was not impressed by the bathroom, however. I cringed at the thought of Emeth taking a bath in this bathtub. Definitely unlickable.

That night, I read the story of Jesus' birth to Emeth from The Big Picture Story Bible.

He had a favorite page that night. He made me read it at least twenty times. And many more times throughout the week. I have it memorized.
"But in this crowded city,
where would this special baby be born?

In a nice, big home?
No, not in a nice big home.

In a clean hotel hotel?
No, not in a clean hotel."
His little finger pointed at the hotel, and his voice echoed mine as I read:
No, not in a clean hotel.
"God's forever king was born
in a stable, a place for animals."
Lord, please give me a listening heart, one that can be taught by a toddler.

Jesus likely did not have a carseat or disinfected bathtub. No, not even a crib.

The reminder was gentle. The effect, however, was a little humiliating. I needed to stop pretending like I was writing a review for some vacationers' website.

We did not invest in a vacation.

We are called to be light.
To be grateful.
We are called to love our neighbors.
To honor family.
To celebrate the marriage of our cousins.
To be aware of the poverty of humanity,
the poverty that is right outside the resort,
the poverty of our own hearts.
To pray.
To be in awe of the vastness of the ocean, the height of the heavens.

So, we stood by the waves, played in the sand, and kissed a dolphin. The week was grand indeed.