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A GRANDMOTHER'S CHALLENGE

I was born in the small city of Hsinchu, Taiwan, where we lived with my paternal grandparents during the two years that my father worked on his doctorate at Vanderbilt. My father's family was of very modest means, since my grandfather was a police officer during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, and my grandmother Mae was a homemaker with 11 children, of whom my father was the 10th. My grandmother had a major impact on my life, especially with regard to my work as a physician. I followed her around all day as a toddler, accompanying her as she shopped in open-air markets, performed her daily chores, and cooked. She treated me like a tiny person, almost like an adult, but she also sternly set limits with me when necessary. Though she never had formal education, Grandmother Mae had a sharp mind and an otherworldly wisdom. She could instantly calculate the total cost of her groceries in her head without the aid of an abacus, and she could judge a person's character by keenly observing their body language and demeanor. She was a woman of few words and deep thoughts who alwaysremained composed despite their financial hardships and the stress of raising such a large family. When she spoke, her words invariably carried love, wisdom, and encouragement. What she lacked in material possessions she more than made up for with love.

When my father was nearly done with his doctorate, he felt secure enough in his future to bring us to America to join him in his tiny apartment. I sometimes joke with my two young adult daughters that I swam all the way from Taiwan to the United States at age three with a winter melon strapped to my back for floatation, which is the equivalent to a midwesterner claiming to have walked to and from school every day barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. However, we actually traveled by commercial airline. My entire extended family saw us off at the airport because they understood the profound significance of our journey. They knew we would visit in the future but that we would never again live in Taiwan. In fact, it took my parents a decade before they saved enough money to fly back. Occasionally when I look through old family albums, I come across the black and white photo of my sister, my mother, and me posing at my paternal grandparents’ house on the morning of our departure to America. My mother smiled proudly wearing a pearl necklace, shiny black high-heeled shoes, and a form-fitting dress and matching jacket that appeared traditionally Chinese yet modern and fashionable at the same time. I cannot imagine how my mother tolerated wearing that dress during the 24-hour journey to America accompanied by two toddlers. She clearly understood the enormity of leaving her extensive support system behind in Taiwan in search of a better life in America, ...

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