Today is Chinese New Year (we celebrate for a week). A lot has happened for us. I feel so lucky to be alive.
Around 11 a.m. Samuel prepared the stuffing: minced pork with lots of finely chopped napa cabbage leaves and green onions mixed with soy sauce. A small plate of dates to put in, calling the sweetness into our lives. Four of us formed a circle of happiness, standing around our kitchen table. Norden puts the stuffing on the dumpling skin and draws a circle of water on the outer edge for me to stick together into a dumpling shape. Serena is making the northern-style dumpling that was passed down from my mother and Samuel is making the type of dumping from his family in the south. I used my iPad to show friends all the way in Dubai how we made dumplings and celebrate the Chinese New Year. We boiled water in a big pot and the round white dumplings representing prosperity slid down the clear holder into the bubbling water. Within 10 minutes, when these babies start to pop up one by one, a half a cup of water gets added into the pot and the procedure is repeated once more. Then they are ready to be served. Hot with steam, homemade dumplings on the Ox Chinese New Year day with our beautiful friends on Skype.
After the delicious dumplings and giving the kids red envelopes with good luck money, I spent the next two hours sharing stories that I just learned from my aunt which I never knew about until this New Year day. She told me about my grandmother whom I have never met.
My grandma was born in 1908. She was illiterate, like most of the women in her era and her feet were bound. She had an even temper and was an obedient wife to her husband who was four years younger.
My grandpa was born a peasant son. His father died when he was four years old. His widowed mom was pregnant with the second child and brought him and his little sister up all by herself because widows were not permitted to remarry. It brought disgrace to the family.
Grandpa was 17 when he married grandma. They birthed six children together and only three survived.
The first son and the fourth daughter died of polio before the age of three.
The second daughter lived until she was six.
On one hot summer day, she was playing outside. Feeling thirsty, she ran inside the house and saw a bowl of water, colored like tea, sitting on the table. Chugging it down in one go, she sat back, satisfied. Suddenly, she started to have stomach pain. Writhing on the floor, she screamed. The little girl died of poison, from the water that her grandmother (my great grandmother) washed her opium gun in.
When my grandma was 56, a tumor started to grow in one of her eyes. In the present day, it could have been removed easily and her life would have been spared. But it was 1967, the beginning of the 10-year culture revolution in China. All the educated doctors and professors were pushed to the side, deemed evil by the communist government. Overnight, doctors become janitors and professors sent to rehabilitation camps. No one knew how to perform surgery in the hospital.
Grandma was sent home. Quickly the tumor spread to her nose. She couldn’t breathe, crying in excruciating pain every night. Right before her passing six months later, my aunt asked her mom if there was anything she could do for her. Grandma asked to taste her favorite food, an orange, for the last time. My aunt searched Shanghai high and low and finally found one orange stand on Nanjing road and quickly brought two home. She peeled one open for her mom. Grandma carefully took a bite then put it down, “I can’t taste it anymore.” My aunt felt so much pain watching her mom suffering, slowly dying and being completely powerless.
Three years later I was born.
I look at my children who were born in America: How much of our family’s history will they be able to understand?
Just being alive and living in a free country brings mist to my eyes.
Chinese is a race that has suffered so much but always perseveres. There is incredible resilience in our culture. I am so proud to be Chinese.
When I was young, I wanted to run away from China. It has taken me a long time to feel proud again. I took back my birth name, WeiLi, on my 49th birthday.
I’m asked how it felt to be called Doris vs. WeiLi:
Doris felt like a role I had played for 27 years. There is a certain image, a certain expectation to meet. I criticized my English continuously, wanting to be a perfect American, which I now know is impossible.
Happy New Year, WeiLi, a curious eyed little girl from China. You are the grand and beautiful one.