Thursday, January 23, 2014


Our worse winter ever here. No immediate end in sight
I remember as a child going to bed thinking the next time I open my eyes, it will be light. Those were the days! A good night these days is waking at 5 am. When I wake is creeping ever so much earlier. I hate just laying there. If I am awake, I try to do something be it play with the iPad or read. Anything but obsess. I am not tired the next day surprisingly, but sometimes I nod off to sleep around 9 pm.

But reading is my go-to activity. The latest book: The Third Son by Julia Wu. If you at the birth order store, make sure you select First and Male, particularly if you are Asian or English in the Downton Abbey days and times previous. Basically in these cultures, the first born male gets everything even before he inherits his father's estate and subsequent children and females just get scraps. An interesting variant is in the Yoruba culture where twins are very common. In the case of first born sons who happen to be twins, the boy that comes out second gets  the rights of primogeniture.

The Third Son concerns the trial and tribulations of a third son growing up in Taiwan. There was a fourth son who was allowed to starve to death despite being in a relatively wealthy family. Not much scraps got past the first son. He felt he was entitled to everything the others earned too. Take, take, take. The story opens up as our hero an 8 year old boy is forced to evacuate the school due to the Americans dropping bombs on their city during WW2. Taiwan had been a Japanese colony since 1895. Despite a rocky start,  the Japanese were fairly good to the locals allowing them self rule, building an infrastructure (roads, railways, schools). Most of the locals learned Japanese and adopted Japanese names. In return the Taiwanese fought on the Japanese side. My SIL's family did quite well under Japanese colonial rule. During the bombing, our hero barely survives but does meet his future wife. While they are hiding together, he learns that family life can be filled with love; not the torture he routinely experienced. Eventually the all-clear signal is given and returns home only to be beaten by his mother because he was late. Being bombed was not an acceptable excuse. Another 12 years of extreme cruelty at his parents' and older brother's hands ensue. He is very clever and takes to reading on his own. He also has a supportive uncle who mentors him. Meanwhile, the Japanese lose the war and Taiwan. Could they just continue their self-rule? That would be nice but the Nationalists headed by Chiang-Kai-shek from Mainland China storm the shores having lost the Revolution to Mao's Communist forces. At first the Nationalists are welcomed. After all, most of them were Han just like the majority of the Taiwanese. Living with fellow Han must be better than the Japanese. The newcomers came with nothing, except guns and so they took everything that they could and murdered those who objected to having their possessions and land removed. The Nationalists justified this as the Taiwanese wealthy class were probable Japanese collaborators. Japanese and Taiwanese became forbidden languages. The language in the schools henceforth would be Mandarin. Our hero's father is a master at switching allegiances and becomes a Nationalist even though he had won an election based on being pro-Taiwanese. The older brother gets worse as he grows up. He is trying to take his brother's beloved fortunately no arranged marriages there. Our hero needs to escape his awful family. Despite not being able to attend the top school in Taiwan , he manages to pass a test that lets him study in the US. His father is momentarily proud of him and even provides funds for him to go. Older brother fumes.Unfortunately his wife and son have to stay back. Even worse, they have to stay in that hideous family.

Part of his studies were in Ann Arbor where things seem to be described accurately. He has found his true home in America unburdened by family obligations. His cleverness lets him go far and fast academically. However he is unable to escape the politics of his homeland. Chinese-American Student groups were especially dangerous. On one hand finding people who spoke your language was comforting but sometimes they were spies for the Nationalist Government quick to report anything seditious true or not, especially if they were jealous of you. True a lot of anti-Nationalists had fled, if they could, Taiwan. The US supported the Nationalists as an ally against Communism. The Nationalists called themselves the Republic of China pretending they were the true rulers of the mainland. Nixon screwed things up for them recognizing Mainland China and not them. Anyway, evil older brother manages to throw a wrench in his plans to get a green card and bring his wife and son over by leaking information that our hero had Communist sympathies. Lots of problems with that. Fortunately our hero had friends in high places here. At home, he proves to his father that the older brother was the source of this rumor and that it taints the father too (the father was unable to leave the country.) His father manages to make things right but still is overbearing and impossible to deal with. Happy ending. This was a true story of the author's parents. So the political considerations were interesting. I had learned about that from my SIL and the competing Taiwanese groups at work. No love lost between them. Of course most Americans didn't understand, they came from the same place after all. The hardest concept for me to grasp is why he kept trying to honor his family who were just so hideous to him and his wife.

So, so cold here. I planned an escape in a few weeks to some place warmer. Today was a Y day again.

Tomorrow, the Moms.

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