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The First Female Captain

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."


"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. 

20 Comment count
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Akiko seems like a wonderful

Akiko seems like a wonderful friend, Keiko! How lucky you are to share her company. I love how you explain that she makes you think and laugh.
"Wicked awesome!" :D

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Jodi, I want to write a


I want to write a novel about her, but I don't have enough knowledge and imagination about the life in Taiwan. But her family and the era she grew up was a unique mix of cultures. I collected all the interesting and beautiful parts of her story, but without specific ugly parts, the story won't be wicked awesome. That's the hard part.

Thank you for reading.

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I loved reading this Keiko.

I loved reading this Keiko. You write it so naturally and it flows like a river. I especially like the ending too...it is uplifting to say the least.Mares

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Mares.  I'm honored.  I'll

Mares.  I'm honored.  I'll cut and paste your message to my brain.   Thank you. 

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Keiko, You are a natural

Keiko, You are a natural storyteller! I agree with, Mares,: "flows like a river."

I love the way you describe your friendship with Akiko-san and how special she is and how she embodies ways from your mother's generation—looking down at the rock instead of your face. I like how I am slowed down with "She wets her lips and thinks a while." I can see all so vividly.

"A while ago, my children asked me if I trusted Akiko-san more than them." This catches my attention--a bit of mystery for me about what's behind this comment by your children.

Love it!

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Rebb,I appreciate all your


I appreciate all your comments.  Writing is very hard, if I can effectively write to reveal the mystery like peeling an onion, I'll be happy.  The wall is the same point as you encouraged me on writing the difference between Western and Japanese dances.  I thought about it as countless time I have in the past.  To write in a way people want to hear is relatively easy, but to get to what I feel at the core and describe it in a way most people understand is so tremendously tiring and seem impossible. 

But after listening to Gypsy King for a while, I'll think about it again.  I don't know why but I can't find my girl from Iapanema CD. 

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I feel you, Keiko. It is a

I feel you, Keiko. It is a wonderful challenge and indeed can be exhausting to translate feelings into words. I try to remind myself to be gentle and to trust the process.  Sometimes, I just write and see where it takes me, write to myself as deeply and raw as I possible can. Then later, I take it and shape it and keep working it until it feels like something. I look forward to reading you as you continue to explore the feelings and images inside of you :)

 Music will surely help. Hope you find your girl from Ipanema CD.

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Rebb, Right, gentle is the


Right, gentle is the key.  It's the key to everything like a girl from Ipanema.  That music is sooo gentle.  In the meantime, the CD is still missing.  In the past, I asked my children right away, but that back fired me.  I felt as though I were a gestapo.   So I don't do that anymore even though all the Beatles' CDs are missing from the jackets.  Ooops!  My kids are maybe reading this.  I better shut my mouth, otherwise, I'll be in trouble.  Laugh. 

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Friendships like that are so

Friendships like that are so beautiful! I like your writing style, too, Keiko. You always leave little mysteries or puzzles in between what you say, for the reader to think about.

"A cool person needn't to mumble any number". Why?

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Luciana, You're right. I


You're right. I read it myself and didn't make sense, so I updated it before, but I forgot to upload it. I'm sure more places need to be clarify and need edits. Please let me know if you have any comments. I appreciate it.

By the way, Akiko-san will be 80 this year! 8 is very lucky number among Chinese and Japanese. Maybe Korean, too, but I'm unsure.

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Dear Keiko,I meant it as a

Dear Keiko,I meant it as a positive aspect. I like that. I don´t like the author to tell me everything. I enjoy when I have some space to breathe and imagine possibilities.

8 is my lucky number! I had no idea about that being lucky in China and Japan!

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Luciana, I'm glad you say


I'm glad you say that.  Me, too.   Yesterday, I read Albert Camus's literary criticism on Kafka.  I like Kafka, but I read some of his short stories long time ago.  Camus said:  The whole art of Kafka consists in forcing the reader to reread.   That's where the enjoyment is for me in reading anything.  Otherwise, I don't want to waste my time.    So I brought out my Kafka books this morning, but I failed to read anything.   The ending of Camus' words:  it offeres everything and confirm nothing.  I loved it, so I underlined it.

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Dear Keiko, I´d be glad to

Dear Keiko, I´d be glad to send you a bossa nova CD if you can´t find yours. Send me a message with your e-mail or your snail mail and I can mail it to you.

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Luciana,  Thank you.  I


Thank you.  I just sent you an email.

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Missing CD's

Oh I know how it is when you can't find a CD when you are writing. Fortunatly I have all my music on my computer. So the only way to lose my music is to lose my computer.However considering the amount of clutter on my desk, that may happen soon.
What impresses me so much is the important lesson your writing teaches, although I am not sure that is the reason you wrote it. When you talked about how Akiko chose to further her studies and finish her project instead of playing a very important game. I hope she told he students that story because it must have been very rare for women to play at that level at that time and she realized that studying was a better investment. Sadly my students don't seem to get that. Oh well.

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Joshua, I don’t like to


I don’t like to look for a CD, so I should do as you do. Besides I’ve been downsizing whenever and wherever I can. But somehow, books are accumulating because I find really good used books, and they are very cheap. I can’t help but buy them.
About Akiko-san, graduation was more important than the important game. Besides, the project was very meaningful. I’m sure researchers benefit from her work today. That’s also a part of history.

About a lesson, no, not at all. Absolutely Zero. I’m not the type to preach. She is that way also. Oh, also the educational system is not like that of the U.S. It’s much more rigid then. If you drop out for just a game, you won’t go back right in. It’s kind of all or nothing. Americans have it easy way. You’re very lucky.

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Crucially, Keiko, you have ...


Crucially, Keiko, you have woven a worthy, touching and deeply meaningful narrative here on your abiding friendship with Mrs. Chaotse Lee - your Akiko-san. 

Especially, I am moved to thoughts and cherishment by the following words of yours:

"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 ..."

Thank you so much for sharing this. It must have been quite an amazing and uniquely, thought-provoking experience for you over the years - in terms of your children being part of it wholly.




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Ugonna, I appreciate your


I appreciate your comment, and I think Akiko-san, too. I let her know you added a comment. She's been reading the comments here, I'm sure.

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Beautiful shared history

Akiko-san's story does indeed make for enthralling history but what I mostly like about this blog is the dance of the author's linguistic and cultural sensibilities weaving back and forth to construct connections between cultures, history, and generations.

I love the question asked by your children also and found myself hoping they come to understand it has nothing to do with trusting one more than the others, but the binding elements of shared mutual and unique experience. By the same token, the kinship with offspring is its own uniquely definitive shared experience.

Thank you for this great post,

author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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  Aberjhani, I appreciate



I appreciate it.  Every word means a lot to me.   Yes, I hope my children understand it someday.   Our gaps are great.

About that generation and culture, I look at my mother's old photos and think about her extended family and before and after WWII.   My sense of it is as though I'm looking at a foreign country.  I'm like a gaucho of Brazil with no label and no festivals to go to.