The purpose for my trip to Taiwan was to be with my mother. The hugs from my mother just made me melt after long hours of tiresome transcontinental travelling. It was embarrassing, but I just had this urge of holding on to her like a little kid the day I arrived. For the whole time I was there, I fully prepared to spend my time at home with her. The funny thing was that my mother was probably busier than any of us. It was a big laugh among us that my mother had her own appointment book and we had to “book” our time in advance in order to take her places. What does an old lady like her do to be so busy? Well, let’s start with a few interesting things about my mother.
If the literacy rate in Taiwan is 96.1%, as stated in the Wikipedia, my mother would be one of those 3.9% illiterate population in Taiwan. My mother, like many people in her generation, had very little formal education due to her life circumstances.
My mother had a really hard life. She lost her father when she was less than three years old. My maternal grandfather was a farmer who was accidentally electrocuted by a downed hydro line at the rice field. During the Japanese occupation, life was a devastating hardship for a widowed mother with two young daughters. My grandmother was not entitled to anything because my grandfather was not the oldest son, and certainly there was nothing left for a family with only two daughters as the heirs.
My grandmother rented a very small rice field from relatives to farm as the main meager income to support her family. My mother and my aunt had only been to school for a couple of years before the war erupted. Everything in life was interrupted for a few years. By the time peace time finally arrived, my mother had already passed her formative years. For a poor family of three females, it was obviously too late for my mother or my aunt to go back to school. My grandmother kept her older daughter home to help her farm the land and made the decision to send my mother away to learn a skill. My mother started her apprenticeship as a hairdresser in the County of Chia-Yi in her early teens.
My mother has my grandmother’s physique and personal traits. She is very petit and very shy with words. She is one of those very traditional Taiwanese women who would rather swallow their pride and plow through the hardship quietly on her own. My mother was a very good apprentice at the salon but she had suffered so much teasing all her life because of her illiteracy. Illiterate people are not ignorant; however, people, including those dear ones in the family, could sometimes put her down with mean and harmful words like adding salt to a wound.
Throughout my education, my mother only went to a PTA meeting once because she did not feel comfortable talking to the teachers about my school work. Although my mother could not help us with any academic work at home, she was the one who had taught us the most important thing in life - work ethics, with endurance and diligence. Honestly, when I was in my teen years, I vowed (so did my sisters) that I would never ever want to turn into my mother who had worked so much all her life for others but never a moment for herself. Now, I think her teaching is truly the one treasure that had brought us to where we are today in life. She taught me to be a better person and made me a better teacher.
To be continued…