Her name is Mrs. Chaotse Lee. I call her Akiko-san, but she is Taiwanese. She is my neighbor and very good friend. She is my model. I'm her fan. There's nobody like her. I've known her for about ten years, and I often praise her for being very healthy and active. She walks fast. But two weeks ago, she stopped walking. The southland wildfire had heated our hot air hotter, and the falling ashes had covered patio furniture. Her voice on phone sounded dark, so I went to see her. ,
"I smell the burning," she says in her kitchen, "Keiko-san, close all the doors and windows."
All day? Every day? That makes me feel like a gold fish. Don't I need some air?
"Just open the south side door in the evening."
That's a good idea.
A few days ago, we met again on top of our neighborhood hill. In the beginning of our relationship, we decided on this meeting spot because I told her I disliked uphill, and she said no problem. She came darting up with her broad smile. I smiled back. I said,
You're amazing. You haven't slowed down a bit.
"I told you I was a basketball player!"
Oh, yes, that's right. You were a basketball player.
"I put on my short," she says drawing a line on her thighs with both her hands. "Every afternoon, I ran out for a work-out. I was the captain."
Captain?! The captain of a basketball team?
What team? School?
"Yes, my school."
High school or University?
Ah, Taiwan University, was it?
She is looking ahead.
I admire her generation for discipline and humbleness, but I often get confused conversing with them. Akiko-san is closer to my mother's generation. And my mother left me with many puzzles. Come to think of it, Akiko-san never uttered a complete name, "Taiwan University." Sometimes, I assume things. Just because she is from Taiwan and went to college do not mean she graduated from Taiwan University. Wait. Taiwan University must be like Tokyo University. It must be elite. Oh, that's it. That's why she is staring at a rock, not my face.
Akiko-san, I just want to make sure. I'd like to write about you in my blog. That's a piece of history, you know. Was it Taiwan U?
"yes. It was the first team."
THE FIRST FEMALE TEAM. Cool!
"Three of us made it to a national team. We went to Philippine."
She was one of two female students in the department of Farming Political Science. For her graduation thesis, she conducted a survey. She traveled the whole island and interviewed the women of selected farmers' households. She asked the women, who made decisions on what. Because of this thesis, she missed an opportunity to play a basketball game in Japan.
Japan colonized Taiwan for 50 years (1895-1945). So Akiko-san spoke and wrote Japanese until she was fifteen years old. WWII ended in 1945. Practically overnight, she had to switch her language study from Japanese to Mandarin. How drastic. What a nightmare! So she speaks Taiwanese, Mandarin, Japanese, and, English. But Japanese left the island, so she hardly spoke Japanese.
If she doesn't speak it, she'll forget. So we speak Japanese while we walk. I asked her about the total number of the national team and its breakdown and their backgrounds. She wets her lips and thinks a while. She says six. A little later, she says three and stops. A few more stops and starts follow. I confirm that that the national team consisted of twelve members.
When I face difficulties in my daily chores, and if I can avoid them, I avoid them. She doesn't need to tell me the detail. She can brush it off. But she doesn't do that. She wets her lips again and thinks a while longer and says six again. So, out of the twelve members, I know that six are from a mission college, three are from Taiwan University, and the other three are from high schools. This is a piece of history. Aren't you glad to know it? .
Before she retired, Akiko-san had taught mathematics for 37 years. She came to the U.S. with her husband to join their daughters. Needless to say, she is a disciplined person. She is also kind. We met around the corner from my house. She wore a short and tennis shoes. We headed the same direction. She asked my name. I said, my name is Keiko, and she said, my name is Akiko.
At the end of our walk, I told her my phone number. She nodded. To make sure, I repeated my number. She said she remembered it. She gave me her number. I stopped her and repeated it several times and mumbled the number as I walked back. Akiko-san didn't repeat my number. She probably needn't to mumble it like me.
Lately, I begin giggling when she talks about her husband. His health hasn't been like hers, and without her tender care, his condition can be much worse. Yet, she says he instructs her to add more flavor and starch to Chinese dishes, otherwise, he says they are not Chinese dishes. I've tasted her soup before. It was an honest and healthy vegetable soup. Many vegetables make an excellent natural flavor. But he doesn't buy it, she says. I smile and say,
I hear many Japanese wives often say, ‘Let them eat whatever. In old age, what's a health conscious for? What do you think of that opinion?
"If gone right away, I don't mind it."
"But not right away, isn't it so? That's the problem."
I thought about it. I began laughing. I wanted to lie down flat on the sidewalk and rolled over.
I'm sorry to make fun out of a serious situation, but she entertains instead of sending people to a dungeon. I forget our age when I'm with her. Sometimes, I have to force myself to be more serious, but she counters the mood somehow, and I always end up giggling. So trusting relationships are nothing but good, right? Well, when it's too good like ours, it's natural that something bad can happen. It's a law of nature, I think.
A while ago, my children asked me if I trusted Akiko-san more than them. I didn't know how to answer that. I love my children. I'm very lucky that they turned out to be decent adults. And I hope they continue to be responsible and valuable to the society. But I don't expect them to be like Akiko-san. I can't.
When the cultures and times make a night and day difference, and even if my English improves another 50%, I doubt it if I can effectively explain this. All I know is that we are connected at the deep level of our past mutual culture, and we're glad that we're no longer in that era and culture, and we confirm to each other that thank goodness, we are in the U.S. And she says, San Dimas is the best place to retire! It's been a while, but my kids no longer ask me the same question.
Last week, my son gave me a ride to do some shopping, and on our way back, he dropped me off near Akiko-san's home. She walked over at the same time. She gave my son a warm smile. I tried to say something to both of them. He said hello and said, "A car is waiting behind." I got out, and Akiko-san and I began walking. And we talked about our children.