Thursday, July 20, 2017

Missing Mom

  She did a great job raising her nine kids, plus keeping dozens of our friends and neighborhood kids in order.  The obituary could be a book.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Home Alone

Gail's off on another work/pleasure trip, this time to Australia.  I was concerned with how long I'd be on my own, but then I realized I'm never alone with this arsenal.


My favorite flower, the Oriental Poppy or Chinese Hot Pot as they call it, has started blooming like crazy in the garden.  Thankfully there are many varieties and they don't all germinate at the same time so this display lasts over a month.

Field Trip

I got the school calendar wrong again and made arrangements for a field trip with some departing students on what I thought was going to be the first day of summer vacation.  It became a fine sick day instead with the endorsement of my supervisor who felt I should get staff development credit.
Two students from ENL, Too De (Burmese/Thai) and Ting (Chinese) went with me to some of my old haunts to see where I came from.  Assia (Moroccan) was going to go but it was during Ramadan so she was fasting and not up for such an adventure.
We started in Candor and visited the barn and cabin, Too De loved the horses and revealed he's got quite a bit of redneck in him.  He likes to hunt and wants to go back out for some camping soon.

Field Trip

A quick stop at Connie and Andy's house.  Too De and Ting both agreed with everyone else who sees it that it's one of the nicest houses anywhere, they loved the woodwork, creativity and detail that went into it, and agreed the view from the balcony is pretty sweet.

Field Trip

We capped the field trip off at my old place in Caroline, an 8' x 10' shack on a friend's property. 
Then sadness hit hard, I had to take Ting to the bus station to catch a bus to NYC where her mom and brother live and she's going to join them.  There is a spark of optimism for her return as she wants to give her brother a chance at a better education than he can get in Brooklyn by doing what she did and coming to Ithaca.  Though unlike her when she came here completely on her own, she'll bring him and live with him.  We're all keeping our fingers crossed.

WISE 2017

This year I was fortunate to once again be a mentor in the WISE program, an independent research class seniors can take.  I was Ting's mentor and would have a large role to play during her presentation, more on that below.  During Assia's presentation she asked for a volunteer to demonstrate pinning a piece of fabric on a model and I displayed skills taught to me by my grandmother over 40 years ago.
Normally the WISE presentations are given to a handful of people, a couple adult evaluators and a couple students and maybe a family member or a close friend.  Assia and Ting each had a roomful of at least a dozen people.  It was such an honor to be among them, and perhaps the finest day I've ever had at work.
The day before wasn't too bad either when Thart Kwah and Eh Soe showed us all the cooking skills they learned during their project.  They had a dozen or so people too, but that's to be expected when you bake an apple pie, a chicken pie and prepare pad thai.
Am I already looking forward to next year so I can see what WISE brings?  Yep, and looking back at last year too.

WISE 2017

As everyone at IHS knows, Assia is on her way to be a fashion mogul, and she can say she got her design and production start in WISE.  For her project she created three dresses, after learning how to use a sewing machine and to stitch.  She and Ting have become great friends and are almost the identical size so Ting was able to kill it as a runway model.

WISE 2017

Everyone agreed Ting did exceptionally well getting around on high heels considering it was the first time she'd ever worn them.  She barely needed to hang onto anyone or anything and never stumbled or appeared as though she was in danger of falling.

WISE 2017

Ting then got her chance to do her own presentation.  She set out to write a play telling the story of her father's illegal immigration to the US when she was seven.  Like many WISE projects, that was a pretty ambitious endeavor which got scaled back a bit, but she did end up writing a powerful dialogue between her and her father about it. 
For her presentation she gave a spiel about what she did and how it went, then she and I read the dialogue.  It got pretty emotional, she teared up when she stumbled over the line about her mom punishing her for getting sick and needing medicine, I wavered a bit, and soon the room full of people were all sniffling, Too De Wah had to leave the room to get himself together.

WISE 2017

Here is the text of the dialogue Ting wrote with my help.  I am unable to post the video as the file is too big.

 The first Chinese immigrants came to America in the early 1800’s.  In the 1830’s and 40’s large numbers came as part of the California Gold Rush and to be merchants.  Afong Moy was the first woman to immigrate from China in 1834.  In the 1860’s immigration from China grew rapidly as they helped build the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad.  During this period as many as 300,000 immigrated, though some went back.  They worked for very low wages, and after the railroad was completed in 1869 Chinese workers were seen as a threat to white males for jobs.  The Chinese were also viewed as being racially inferior.
 The first drug laws in the US were created that targeted Chinese living here.  Smoking opium, which was common among Chinese men, was made illegal in San Francisco in the late 1800’s, while other methods of using it favored by whites was allowed.  This made it possible to jail or deport Chinese.  Chinese men were made villains in newspapers that described a “Yellow Peril” of Chinese men luring white women to opium dens.
 In 1882 the US passed the first law to stop people coming from a specific country:  The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigration, restricted those here from freely traveling back and forth to China, and barred citizenship to anyone from China.  Those here also faced possible deportation.  The act was extended once and made permanent in 1902.  This remained in place until 1943 when immigration quotas were used to limit immigration from China to only 105 per year.  In the 1960’s immigration restrictions were loosened, and again in the 1990’s.  However, no more than 7% of immigrants can come from one country.  This has led to large numbers of immigrants coming to the US illegally from China.
 In 2003 my father became one of those who immigrated from China.  He did not come legally.

 My father left me when I was 7 years old.  Because I was a child, I did not care where he was going or understand how long he might be gone.  When he was already in the US my mom told me he was in the US and he may never return.  This made me cry.
 Every day he called at 12 pm our time, but it was the middle of the night in NY City when he was done working.  At first I didn’t know what to say to him and I just wanted to play so we didn’t talk much, this limited how much our relationship could grow and eventually it was lost.
 What you are about to hear is a dialogue between my father and me that tells his story of travelling to America.

 Father, I am an adult now, there are many things I understand, but many more that I have no answers for.  Only you can give me the answers and I hope you will.  

 Ting, I can never give you all the answers you deserve by my leaving you and your mother and brother, but I will tell you what I can. I hope the answers make it easier for you to understand why I had to do what I did.

 The first thing I want to know is what has caused the most pain for me.  How was it possible for you to leave mom and me?  I was only 7 and you had been married to her for such a short time.

Before your brother was born, my income for one year was 20,000 Renminbi.  It was enough money for three people to live.  Your brother was born and he added to my financial burden.  In addition to paying living expenses I had to pay the government a fine for having a second child.  It was a lot of money, I didn't think I would have the ability to pay for everything, so I decided to go to the US.  American money was 10 times more valuable than Chinese money.
 Even though I was so far away I thought of you all the time.  I called every night after I finished working, but you wouldn’t talk to me.

When you called, I didn’t want to talk because I didn’t know much about you.  My memories were few and over time they faded, soon you were just a strange voice on the telephone.  I thought you would visit us sometime and when you didn’t I decided you didn’t care about us.  Why else would you stay away so long?

I was working all the time, sending all my money back.

But we were we still so poor.  Why?  When I got sick mom punished me because medicine was expensive.  She couldn’t afford to see a doctor or send me to one.

After I arrived in the United States, I still needed to pay back debt first.  The longer time it took made me pay more interest.  I had very little to give the family, most of my money paid the debt. To get to America I had to borrow from everyone I knew: my family, your mother’s family, even neighbors and friends.  They all wanted to loan it so they could get more back with interest.  It is very shameful to not pay the debt, it would have been very hard on you and your mother if I didn’t pay.

Mom didn't have enough money to spend on other things we needed either.  Why did you need to borrow so much?  Who did you pay it to?

There are people who make arrangements to get out of China and into America, they are called Snakeheads.  They charge for the cost of travel and documents, but they want to make money too.  They charge as much as $70,000 US.  
Sister Ping was very famous and became rich until one of her ships ran aground on Long Island near NY.  They say she was worth $40 million when she went to prison for 35 years.  This was before I went to America.  Snakeheads accept small payments before you leave, but when you get to America you have to pay much more or they make you work as a slave or even kill you.

I remember Sister Ping from the film about the Golden Venture, the ship that you mention.
So after you paid the snakehead, then you flew to America?

I was not lucky enough to fly to America, it had become too dangerous because they were looking for Chinese with fake papers.
No, first it was a long and dangerous trip to get out of China. When it was time to leave the Snakehead told me I had to go almost right away so no informants would tell the police.  I only told your mom and at night a car picked me up.
Since it was so many years ago I can´t remember everything, like the exact places we went.  There were many times I did not even know where we were.
We first traveled in a van without windows to a country south of China.  There were hundreds of Chinese together, adults and children, waiting for a boat.  Finally, a night came when we boarded a boat.  I was grouped with about 40 men and had to go to a cabin below deck without light.  The women were above and as a disguise they made them look like waitresses on the ship.

Did the boat go to the US?

The boat went many places.  At first everyone was very excited and talkative.  We all shared stories of our lives and told about our families and dreams of a better life in America.  After a week things changed, many were sick, we were all hungry and the dark cabin was so dirty.  We could not even go outside for light or air.  After a month we ran into a storm and the sea got very rough and cold, but we only had clothes for summer.  I feared we were going to die at sea.
We stopped at many ports along the way, but we never knew where we were or how long we would stay.
Finally we were near land when another boat came to meet us.  It was a small fishing boat that just pulled up next to us, both boats were going up and down on the waves, and when they were at the same level we had to jump onto the fishing boat.  It was very dangerous, but it had to be this way because our big boat could not reach land.

Did you know where you were then?  Did you fly from there to the US?

No, from this country we flew to Cuba and then to Mexico.
It is too dangerous to enter the US through an airport with fake passports.  We had to go to Mexico so we could cross the border.
Once we got to Mexico a Little Horse, a person who works for the Snakehead, said, “You have to wait for the Snakehead to inform you what time you can go.¨   We had 6 people living in a room as a group, all with a different time to go so if some got caught not everyone would be together.
The Snakehead said secrecy during this time in the house was very important because a lot of police do rounds in the area to check for illegal activities.  We lived in the big house one week before we tried cross the border.

It seems like the whole trip you were always hiding so no one would find you, I´m glad you made it all the way without being found.

Almost all the way.  When I arrived at the US-Mexican border we got robbed,  by some locals.  I had so little money I did not want to give them so they hit me, but I could not get legal protection because I was still hiding.  It was horrible but at least we weren´t caught by the police.  I took a picture and sent it back to your mother, hoping if the Snakehead knew he would charge less for not protecting me and return some money to your mom.

I remember the picture.  When I saw it I didn´t know it was you until mom told me.  We were so upset and worried.  Were you allowed to enter the US?

I got hurt so I had to wait another week before crossing.  The first time we tried we walked through the mountains to get to the border, that´s why we were caught by the local thieves.   The second time we went by car and made it without any problems.  
When the car stopped the Mexican driver said, ¨Wait for a child to come and lead the way, the border guards don´t catch children as much.¨
Everyone got out of the car and a little boy came, and he gestured for us to follow him.  We had no idea how far we had to go or how long it would take.  The boy led us across the border by walking to avoid the police.  When we were in the US we got on a bus that already had women and children on it.  I had to climb in a kind of box under a seat so I wouldn´t be seen.  There were also lots of clothes hanging in the windows to keep people from seeing in.  Some of the police had been bribed by the Snakehead to leave us alone.
The bus took us to Los Angeles and we arrived without any problems.  There we got new fake passports, but since we weren´t entering the country through the airport it wasn´t as dangerous to have them.  The Snakehead bought our plane tickets and we flew to NYC right away.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

New York with Kids

  I got to take a trip to NY City in May with kids from school.  We visited the Jewish Heritage Museum and got a too-quick tour that concluded with a view of the Andy Goldsworthy exhibit on a terrace.  In this project he drilled holes in rock and planted trees.  He did test trials of this while affiliated with Cornell and those rocks/trees can be seen at the botanical gardens.
  We also took a ferry to Ellis Island for an even briefer visit to the museum there.  It was a great day to be on the water, the sky offered a dramatic view of the Statue of Liberty as we passed.
  It cleared up and brightened up on the trip back towards Battery Park.
  Ellis Island is definitely worth getting back to soon.  45 minutes was just enough time to get a taste of how interesting it is, particularly in my new position at work in the program for immigrants (see post below).  They've done a fantastic job restoring the buildings and the displays are relevant and informative.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Thanks Mom

  Been spending quite a lot of time with my mom and siblings lately.  Mom has had some serious health setbacks and as per her wishes we are taking care of her at home.  She spent Mother's Day in the hospital and it became clear she wanted no part of that, so with help from hospice we got her discharged and back home.  That was a few weeks ago, and while she is not in great shape, she is much more content than she was there and all of us "kids" are doing for her what she did for us.  Since she lives with Janet the bulk of the care is going to her, but the rest of us are getting here as much as possible and doing what we can.
  From what Mom has been saying today, Mary Ellen is even around helping out.
  It's not widely known, but my mom invented the selfie back in the last century with a 126mm instamatic camera.  She was trying to figure out why it hadn't taken a picture, flipped it around and pushed the button again- presto, a selfie.  Too bad she didn't get a patent.


  This year at work I switched to the English as a New Language program and what a pleasure it has been.  I've often worked with kids in it when they have been in mainstream classes I've been assigned to, and last year mentored one taking WISE.  The new assignment has been great and it's a real treat to get to know so many kids from such varied places around the world.
  Imagine my surprise when I realized I had a twin from China!  Ting has lived in the US since she was 12, but went to school in Brooklyn where most of her classmates were also Chinese so she didn't learn much English.  She dropped out soon after she turned 16 and worked up and down the East Coast at restaurants but at some point realized she still wasn't learning much English, or anything else. 
  As her mentor for her WISE project, I can attest that she has learned a great deal of English.  She's been writing the story of her father immigrating to the US in the early 2000's, it's quite a story, one that few of us can imagine or appreciate what people put on the line to have a better life for themselves and their families.  Now that she is 21 she is facing two NY State Regents exams for her last chance to become a high school graduate. 
  Big deal, isn't looking just like me enough?

10 Years

Gail and I recently celebrated our 10th anniversary.  The top picture is one of the first of the two of us together and the bottom is probably one of the last that Mary Ellen took.  I think they go well together, just like us.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Church Dedication

  This past weekend I attended the dedication of the new parish hall of St. Catherine's of Sienna church in Ithaca.  It was the church Mary Ellen was a member of and they started planning and fundraising for the new hall around the time she became ill.  She supported it during her remaining life, and after she died Frank and others made significant contributions in her memory.  It is a beautiful and functional space that will surely serve the members of the parish well for many years.

Church Dedication

  Frank came up from Maryland for the dedication and had a seat on one of two benches the will be adorned with plaques commemorating Mary Ellen's contributions to the parish.  The project is not quite finished, the ribbons and stakes will be removed and a nice garden planted in the space behind Frank.


  Got a chance to go to Derby Hill on Lake Ontario recently for the spring bird migration.  When birds are flying north and arrive at the lake they typically turn east and fly along the shoreline rather than cross the open water.  The Onondaga Audubon Society has a location at a bluff north of Mexico, NY with a nice view to the west to see the oncoming birds.  We went on a day billed as "epic" for Broad Wing Hawks and while it didn't shape up to be record-breaking, we did get to see hundreds, along with dozens of other species of raptors and swarms of Bluejays.
  The regulars and serious birders have amazing scopes, and even with just their eyes can often tell what is far away.  We were next to a guy who came from Connecticut for a few days who would tell us to pay attention to a kettle (a large gathering of hawks swirling around each other using air currents to soar) because there were Bald Eagles or something else to pay attention to.
  At one point some clouds moved in and we were treated to a ring around the sun.
Here is the report for the day:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Now We're Cooking

  Here's Gail and our niece, Mariana, in the kitchen back around 2002 soon after Gail bought the house.  She painted the cupboards right away because they were a dark brown, but not much changed in the kitchen for the next 15 years.  We did get a new stove and refrigerator, and had the dishwasher with a hole rusted through it taken out and drawers put in for more storage, but that was about it.
  Gail decided it was time to get rid of the yellow counter top, the fan that didn't circulate, the sink with the crappy faucet, and the rounded shelves at the end of the counter.  Her (excellent) plan and design was to move the cupboards up, add more shelves and replace the rounded ones with a cabinet.
  We envisioned a late spring project, our contractor of choice, Scott, who did a great job with our bathroom and doors, tends to be in high demand.  When we had him come by to do the estimate he said he could get started in a few weeks (it was January).
  We also wanted to get the floors redone in the kitchen and dining room while we were at it, and the crew who did that were able to start even sooner.  So much for cooking out on the grill while this was going on and eating on the porch or patio.  We managed, and it was nice to sit in the recliner in the living room and open the fridge to grab a snack.

Now We're Cooking

  Once we moved all the furniture into the spare room, basement and living room the floor guys got started.  They sanded the kitchen and dining room and then put new sealant on.  These pictures were all taken after one day of sanding.  As you can see around the edges, the wood had turned pretty dark, and there were some bad repair jobs where vents or chimneys had been moved over the years.

Now We're Cooking

The floors were finished and immediately covered with particle board and paper to protect them during the kitchen work.  Gail has one last look at the yellow counter top.

Now We're Cooking

  The first task once the kitchen remodel got underway was to move the cupboards up so shelves could be added beneath them.  The blue paint indicates where the bottom used to be, that amount of space was above them which did little more than serve as a space to collect grime and dust.  As you can see in the top photo things aren't quite straight in our house, as you can see in the bottom photo, Scott is really good at making it look like they are.

Now We're Cooking

At it's most stripped down.  Cupboard doors, counter tops and sink all removed.

Now We're Cooking

  The counter top has been installed, it's Corian, nice stuff.  The cupboards all got painted in one day, it helped that it was 70 degrees out and they dried in about 20 minutes in the living room where I kept the pellet stove running.  It took a couple days to get them all back on.

Now We're Cooking

Everything is back in its (new) place and the walls all painted.  We finally got to uncover the refinished floors, the spices are up on the new shelf, and the new shelves below the cupboards are filled up.  Probably my favorite feature is the wooden box by the back door in the top picture; I can sit down and put my shoes on now.  That's important as I age.
  The new sink and faucet are nice too.  So are the counter tops.  And the shelves.
  Gail's cooking has always been great.