Friday, August 26, 2011

My Baptism, etc.

Several old pictures came to my attention just now. So I am going back a few years in time here. When Taotze and I were in Junior High school, we started to go to the Lutheran Student Center to play ping-pong. Initially Miss Jones came out to tell us that those tables were for college students only. I told her that we would be college students later. She then left us alone to play. Later, I went to hear the choir sing and was immediately hooked. In order to join the choir, I convinced Taotze to join the church together with me. We took the lessons together and were baptized in 1956.
Mr. Kao was the conductor of the choir at that time. He was an outstanding director. All I know about church music, I learned from him. The picture below shows the choir he directed. It was quite small but we sang the complete Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah. Almost everyone had a solo! How many choirs in the US could handle that? My first solo was “Thou shalt break them”. The familiar “Comfort Ye” was given to another tenor.  Two older choir members, Ma(base) and Chen(soprano), married in the church. Of course, we sang in their wedding! We also did some cantatas during Christmas time, even with costumes! (I was a king!)

I used to sing duets with two altos in the choir. One was Virginia Lau, whose picture was posted earlier, and another one was Rita Ho. Here is a picture taken when Rita and I sang at an engagement ceremony. She also served as Miss Jones secretary.

Friday, August 19, 2011

She looks like a Chinese!

In September of 1964, just before I left Tennessee, I wrote a letter home to tell my parents that I needed to work as hard as I could until I received my PhD degree at Illinois. When Janice and I started to plan our wedding place and date, I thought that I had better let them know our plan.  I asked Janice to give me a picture of herself so that I could quickly send it to them.  I planned to take more pictures later. Janice gave me the following black and white copy of her college graduation photo. I sent it back home as soon as I could
This is the account that my sister Kai recalls of what occurred when they got the picture in Taiwan. My father stared at the picture for a long while and said “she looks like a Chinese, don’t you think”.  My mother’s comment was that “she has long ear lobes”. The Chinese believe that people with long ear lobes have good fortunes. We have enjoyed their comments ever since. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It was a miracle!

Clearly there is no “natural” progression for how two strangers can get together and get married. The old Chinese custom was to shift the decision to the parents. They made the arrangement which they considered the best for their children, which most likely provided a better chance to be successful. Just a better chance, however, not a certainty!  Western culture demands that young couples make the marriage decision by themselves. Since they make their own decision, no one seems to care if this tradition is good or bad. They have to celebrate or suffer the results of their own decision.  Western culture seems to require that one person ask the other party to marry. Traditionally the male plays this role and he would get very excited when the answer is a yes. The Chinese call this action “begging for marriage” ( ).  Many, many people in my generation were very proud that they were successful, even after they begged several times.
So you may ask what Janice and I did, since we were from different backgrounds. Janice calls the process we went through “a miracle”.  Neither one of us asked the other for marriage. Therefore no one had said “yes” to the other. We do not even remember when and who mentioned the word”marriage” first. It was shortly after Janice came back from the Thanksgiving break that we started to talk about our dreams for the future. It seemed that we started to talk about “our” plan instead of “my or your” plan very smoothly and naturally. Very quickly, sometime in December, 1964, we were thinking about where and when our marriage should take place. There were no surprises to either of us.  We did not think that we went too fast or were too rushed. We were just so much immersed in each other, that we ignored any other consideration. It was a miracle!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

International House of Pancakes

Janice and I must have punched the right buttons on each other, as we certainly enjoyed each other’s company at an accelerating pace. Quickly we became regular customers of IHOP, at that time the only place in this quiet campus town open 24\7, where one could get something to drink and talk at all hours of the day. We tried to slow down the pace several times, but we were not successful. For example, I told Janice that we should break up for a while, yet I called her next day to meet at IHOP again! It was clear to Janice’s two apartment mates, and to my brother, my roommate, that Janice and I were on a one-way street, but the two of us just enjoyed talking to each other. We shared everything we could remember, discussed every subject on our minds, laughed at every joke we encountered, past and present. Life was full and fulfilling! 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Illini Folk Dance Society

Both Janice and I belonged to this student organization for five years, from 1964 to 1969; it was part of our lives in that period. In the beginning, we danced on Tuesday nights only. Then we went to Scottish Country dances on Mondays, special workshops on Wednesdays, and line dances on Thursdays. Clearly we could not do everything and still study for a PhD degree at the same time. Janice and I tried only to be there regularly on Tuesday nights.
Every semester, we would go to “Lake of the Woods”, a very nice local park, at least once, to have a picnic there. We danced all afternoon and night, using a request list. Of course, we often had parties - either at a local pub or at Mary and George Lowery’s home. George taught us a lot of folk songs; he was a professor in the Recreation Department. Mary and George became our close friends.
Party at our home after we are married
George sang folk songs at our home after we are married
This group of folk dancers included both graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff, and a few town people. There were whites and blacks, and every color or shade in between. Of course, we had a lot of nationalities represented, with very different cultural backgrounds. There were many potluck dinners and we could not believe that they got better and better, one after another, with dishes from around the world, for a long, long time!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

First Date with Janice

Even though Janice and I met in late September of 1964, and we danced together every Tuesday night with the folk dance group, we did not have an official date until late October. When the folk dance group had a picnic outing in the nearby Kickapoo State Park, we decided to go together, separately from others in the group. It was a clear, beautiful day. There I was, driving my 56 Chevy and singing some of my favorite tunes to Janice, obviously trying to impress this girl sitting beside me.  Crash! I ran into the car in front of mine. The sound of tail lights of the car in front of me breaking did not seem to diminish our excitement. That was my first car accident! It was our first date. We certainly had a good time. It did not bother Janice and it surprised me later that I, too, was not bothered by the accident. The following pictures were taken at that park:

Friday, August 12, 2011

First Encounter with Janice

This might be the most important encounter of my life!
 Because I started folk dancing at ETSU, when I was heading to the University of Illinois (UI) I was given “Robin” as the contact person, so that I could continue to dance as soon as arrived. That was exactly what I did. The Illini Folk Dance Society was a big group in 1964. There were more than one hundred people on any given Tuesday night when the group met. Janice was one of the better dancers in the group and I, of course, got to meet with her. Since there was always a blue eyed and blond young man following her around, I thought that they were one of the married couples.
One Tuesday night in late September, during a couples dance, Janice asked me if I could give her a ride home after the dance. I was happy to agree to that and to find out that she was not married after all. What was my first impression of Janice besides that she was a graceful dancer? She was smart and fun and, furthermore, she was delightful. I was certainly attracted to her instantly and continuously! Later, I found out that she had her own car that Tuesday night when she asked me for a ride home. I am glad that she wanted to meet me too! There is really no one superlative that I can use to describe this encounter, one which hopefully everyone has experienced once in his or her life so that the unique value of this occasion can be appreciated. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

University of Illinois

In September 1964, I said “good bye” to friends in the East Tennessee area, turned down the full time job offered to me by Great Lakes Research, and drove alone to Urbana, Illinois. I met my brother Dean there and we rented two rooms together in a student rooming house near the U of I campus (904 Illinois Street). Here we were! It was a new start for me and a totally new experience for Dean. We were two of more than one hundred new graduate students in the Chemistry Department that year! It was the largest one year enrollment in the department history. We took the placement exams together which determined which courses we had to take in the first two years of our program.
The picture below was taken in front of Noyes Laboratory, where we spent most of our time in the next five years! The other places on campus we visited often were the Math Department (Altgeld Hall), and the Student Center (the llini Union).

Monday, August 8, 2011

My First Car

When I think back, the first five years after my coming to the US in 1962 were the ones when my life changed the most, as far as I can remember. First of all, I became independent in all aspects of my life. This might be the biggest change, as I had not been allowed to make ANY important decisions before. Also, economically I was suddenly my own support system. Fortunately I was young and naïve, and certainly knew very little that mattered. Optimistic thinking plus the situation at the time in the US made my life adjustment a very smooth one.
I bought my first car so I could drive to work. It was a 1956 Chevy 4-door sedan. The picture below was taken with the car in front of my rental house on the east side of Johnson City.

The gas was cheap, 22-25 cents a gallon, and they gave green stamps too! When you collected a certain number of green stamps, you could exchange them for various items in a green stamps catalog(see a typical page below), everything from a radio to a camera, and many other items you would like to have. It was a different time! 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New York City

While we were in New York, we went to several other popular places to visit, including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and, of course, Radio City Music Hall.  I was impressed with the latter, but I do not have any good picture to show you here. Everything was new and strange, but I was very excited and tried to absorb everything without any pre-knowledge which might allow me to make a judgment if they were good or bad. I wanted to experience it all andthen I would decide later if they were worthy my time and money!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

World’s Fair in 1964-65

The Fair's theme was "Peace through Understanding," dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. Frank Snodgrass of Johnson City and Richard from Venezuela joined me in New York City for one week in June, 1964. We stayed in an apartment rented with Sherman Tang’s help. It was truly fun, but Frank was really scared when we were outside the fair and in the city. I was impressed with the GE exhibit; it showed many electric conveniences for daily life. At that time, they were incredible! However, they would all be realized not too long after the show. It cost $2.50/day to get into the Fair, an expensive entrance ticket at the time. The apartment was located on North Broadway, near Colombia University, and the Fair was in Flushing. We learned to ride subway without much problem.
Taiwan had a very elaborate pavilion; it tried very hard to prove that it deserved to be supported by the world. The country was very poor then and was struggling. My father was a professor and also an administrator in a high position at Taida, but his monthly paycheck was smaller than mine, as a teaching assistant in the U.S. It was a very different world then!