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It’s a Wonderful World
half-life friendship between American grandfather and Taiwanese grandmother
By Hsueh-mei, Wang
(translated by Hayden Wetzel )
Very recently I saw something which reminded Miss Cheap Skate that goodness is in fact found throughout the world.
This is how the story began . . .
Do you remember from “Miss Cheap Skate travel around the World ” that I have joined Servas? (see p.56) Well, last week (Nov. 5) an American Servas member named Hayden stayed in Taiwan four nights, and on one evening Miss Cheap Skate met up with him and took him to a Taiwanese diner and a concert of local music.
During this conversation I learned that the first time Hayden had come to Taiwan was in 1970, when he studied for six weeks at a Taiwanese Mandarin language academy and lived with Mama Chou’s host family, where he had an unforgettable experience. Remembering Mama Chou’s family, Hayden came to Taiwan a second time in 1977 to see the Chous. Since then they kept up a correspondence. Over time they lost touch, and several years ago when Hayden decided to travel to Asia again and visit his Asian friends, his letter to Mama Chou was returned.
Last year Miss Huang, a Servas member from Taiwan, stayed with Hayden and Hayden asked her to help him find Mama Chou at her old address. If Mama Chou had already moved, then ask the neighbors about her, because it could be Mama Chou has passed away. When Miss Cheap Skate met Hayden, he told me very disheartedly: “I can’t find my home in Taiwan”
This began Miss Cheap Skate’s brain working: maybe I could help him find Mama Chou.
Use to be a reporter, Miss Cheap Skate’s first thought was to find a media, and because Hayden would be in Taiwan only four nights and Miss Cheap Skate had learned about this on the second night there were only two nights left to find Mama Chou. And so, if I was to find a media, the best thing would be to quickly go on TV. Who had the most pull? I contacted a reporter for Channel T, but unfortunately the reporter I knew didn’t answer her phone.
After clamming against the wall of the TV station, my second thought was to contact the police, because now information on all households in Taiwan is on-line, and perhaps we could get a computer list. If the local policy would help, we could arrange a visit, and then I wouldn’t have to look up my journalist friends.
And so I gave a call to a journalist at a newspapaer to see what he thought of this. He has a lot of contacts with policemen. I was really embarrassed – it was 10 AM when I got him, and he worked the night shift to 3 AM and slept to noon. Fortunately the reporter shares his apartment with was good-natured and had no problem.
Now my friend decided that the address Hayden had given me is from which precinct in Taipei. A very excited Miss Cheap Skate truly had trouble thinking clearly, everything was given over to solving this puzzle as quickly as possible, because she was afraid that he would go back to sleep, and so she asked him again, would you call back after a few minutes?
After ten minutes her friend called her: it’s XXX precinct, and the phone number is XXX. She called the line – there was no mistake – and an officer of the precinct answered. Now, that evening Miss Cheap Skate had to take a test, and in the day would be completely taken up with that, so the best thing to do was to ask another Servas member to take Hayden.
Had Hayden begun to feel this was just a big waste of time? As I had said, he is a good citizen, and had never bothered the police. Ms. Chen, the Servas member, said that she had never entered a police station either. But Miss Cheap Skate was not in a mood for half measures, and urged Hayden: “Perhaps the computer will do the trick, then you’ll find Mama Chou. Isn’t it worth trying? This is the easiest way to find someone! Then if you don’t find her we at least tried”
Hayden agreed. He decided to go to the station that afternoon (the third day). The police asked some questions of each of them separately, and decided everything was true, so they looked up the address and phone number of Mama Chou’s daughter. This was truly exciting, the Taiwan police and their household register! But when Ms. Chen telephoned Mama Chou’s daughter no one answered. The two of them were anxious, not knowing how this would all end.
Hayden only stayed with that Servas member Ms. Chen for two nights, and on the third day moved over to the house of a second Servas member, Amo. After they had left the police station, while Ms. Chen was returning home in a taxi she looked at the address. “Jiankang Street . . . that’s not a ten-minute ride from my place . . .” She thought it over and just as the taxi was turning onto Jiankang she excitedly decided to seize the opportunity and do it. She found the house and rang the bell. A lady opened the door and after explaining her mission the lady said: “Hayden? I know him, and Mama Chou is my mother. But she doesn’t live here, but I’ll get her,” and got on the phone and called Mama Chou. They decided to meet at Mama Chou’s house the next morning at 9 o’clock.
Miss Cheap Skate got Ms. Chen’s phone call at six that evening and knew that she had founder her. She asked excitedly how things had gone. “One day and we found her, just too efficient!” With this, Hayden loved Taiwan even more.
Holding in her excitement I first took my test, and then began to think what the meeting of these two people would be like. I decided to take the next day off, to sacrifice one day’s work to see this 57-year-old Hayden reunited with 80-year-old Mama Chou, because I really felt this would be moving.
“Oh – Mama Chou!” “Hayden!” They hugged each other, held each other for some time, and Hayden – clearly very affected – for a second couldn’t speak. “Mama Chou, you haven’t changed at all.” “Hayden, you’re old!” Hayden and I laughed, and Mama Chou immediately invited Hayden and me inside.
Even though Mama Chou was 80 years old and lived by herself, everything inside her apartment was wonderfully tidy and elegant. She took out some recent photos and told Hayden about her life. “Little Brother (Mama Chou’s son)?” “Working in Japan.” “Little Sister (Mama Chou’s daughter)?” “Taking care of kids at home.” Hayden hadn’t heard about Papa Chou, but someone with Hayden’s understanding of Chinese culture so well politely said nothing about that. But Mama Chou spoke directly: “Papa Chou is ninety years old now, and has Parkinson’s Disease. He doesn’t recognize anyone now. He’s in a rehabilitation hospital.”
The two of them told stories of people over the last thirty years – never tiring, never stopping. I learned that the first time Hayden came to Taiwan he was the first foreign student to board with Mama Chou, and Mama Chou’s was his first homestay family. Maybe because of this, both of them have very strong feelings for each other.
In fact, Hayden had lived in Taiwan for six weeks but only was with Mama Chou’s family for one week. After the first week he had moved to another, but although that was a professor’s family, they played mahjong every day, with nobody to cook, and Hayden was always back at Mama Chou’s house and fortunately Mama Chou had no problems with that because she still cared about him. “It wasn’t important – he ate with us,” and when the evening came Hayden went back to the hopeless professor’s house to sleep.
Hayden brought a guestbook especially to show Mama Chou, and this had photos of the various foreign students who had lived with Hayden in the US, and also their messages. There were at least 40 or 50, from Japan, Korea, Iran, Israel, New Zealand, Romania . . . students and travelers from every country of the world staying with Hayden.
Hayden pointed to a picture from this book, a student from Iran. His parents had been studying and working in the U.S. when he was born, and then as a two-year-old his parents divorced and his mother took him back to Iran. By the time he had turned 24 he began to think of studying in the U.S. and recalling his father he wrote a long letter, but only got back a curt reply; he decided he couldn’t rely on his father for help, and with the arrangements of the school went to Hayden’s house to live.
Hayden said that very quickly this Iranian student called his mother in Iran to tell her he was OK, and his mother wanted to talk with Hayden. She tearfully pleaded with Hayden to please take care of her son. To make the Iranian mother comfortable Hayden has every month since then sent the mother a letter telling her about her son’s life in the U.S., until he will return to Iran. Actually the Iranian student only lived in his house for one month before moving to a student dormitory.
“Now when I think of that foreign student I remember so much the influence of Mama Chou from that year in Taiwan and I think that someday if I can I want to be like Mama Chou and be good to a foreign student.”
Because of the loving care of a Taiwan mother for an American student, thirty years later this American student has cared for students from many countries, with more care than his real father, and students having such good luck will either forget that or on the other hand have the love of the world! In this world it is not the disasters of the mighty newscasts – there is something more precious, found in the human breast, the unselfish impulse to do good!
In speaking of peoples’ good works, however worthwhile, Mama Chou’s and Hayden’s were so spontaneous that I have to recall the song “What a Wonderful World”, and it keeps running over and over in my mind.
PS: 1. You are surely curious, did Mama Chou speak English? Oh no – Mama Chou spoke Chinese, and Hayden also spoke Chinese. Hayden’s Chinese is so good that he really doesn’t need any interpreting. He’s read the Four Books and Five Classics!
2. And certainly some people will say that it’s too bad that when I looked for a reported none of them returned my calls, but they were busy with bigger matters and didn’t have time. Ah . . .
3. In thinking of travelers, besides tourism and business, there is also travel to see friends, and previously I hadn’t understood that. “Visiting friends” certainly rivals sightseeing, and ought to be thought of as itself a type of travel. After meeting Hayden I came to understand that there truly are some people who leave a country and then want to visit friends. This month-long visit of Hayden to Asia – Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China – was entirely to see students who had lived with him in homestay, and friends he had known from work: one of these was a man in Beijing – 92 years old. He thought, if I don’t go to see him one day I’ll want to go and it will be too late. It doesn’t matter what the local scenery is like, he was only thinking of going to talk about old times with his friends.
4. Encouraging young people to travel is definitely a good thing. You can see how the warm welcome Hayden got brought about such wonderful effects!
5. If even a housewife can serve the interests of our country foreign interests then you can too!
(Comments all along the line of: “This will inspire me to be nice to visitors too!”)
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