Saturday, July 16, 2011

Virtual windows to the past

I got a Skype call a couple of weeks ago from my Aunt Ming Ching. To underscore how cool this is, I need to give some backstory.

I realize I haven't blogged much about my family. You'll note that I have a Chinese maiden name. My father's parents and siblings were all born in China and immigrated to the US in 1947, where my father was born later that same year. My Aunt was the eldest (eldest surviving, that is, two older siblings predeceased her, one in childbirth, I believe, and the other in a tragic drowning incident while being bathed.) She was eighteen or so (dates often get muddled when you switch calendars from Chinese to Gregorian, though if I really wanted to know, I could figure it out given she is, like me, born in the Year of the Rabbit) and not a full generation younger than my grandmother, her stepmother. She and the other older sisters were like second mothers to my father, who lost his own mother to cancer when he was eight.

Suffice it to say, she was born into a world very different than the one she lives in now. The family back in China was well off, though there again,  I don't know details. My grandfather was, however, well connected enough to get the family into the United States in 1947, when the immigration quota was, I am told, 25, as in 25 people were allowed in. I do not know if my family were counted towards that quota, or if they entered as tourists and then plead for asylum when China closed its borders.

I cannot imagine what a world shattering shock it would be to go from a comfortable life in Shanghai, with servants, to a middle class, American life in Forest Hills, which is in the Borough of Queens, New York City. I suspect there's not one story there, but rather eight, one for each member of the family who lived through it. My aunt has said, though, that she never thought she'd wash her own clothes and do her own cooking, and I doubt she ever thought she'd have biracial nieces who don't speak a word of Chinese (I don't think the family name, my Chinese name - Shi Yue - and phrases like "Ni hao" really count). I love talking to my Aunt, though, and do my best to collect stories about the past without badgering her incessantly.

So you can imagine how wonderful it was to have her call via Skype the other week, something she's done a couple of times since. I even got a three way conversation going with her and my sister in Colorado. I can only hope I'm as able to keep up with the times when I am my Aunt's age. Thanks to my cousin, Craig, who is often at Auntie's house, helping her, she is all set up with a webcam and has the family's Skype addresses.

Living abroad this time around is an entirely different experience than it was before. Thanks to the internet (which was around when I lived here before, but was still rather new - I didn't get an email address until I was 18), I can keep those I love close to me. And I can blog, and any other family members who have additional or conflicting facts about the family past can contribute, which I invite them to do, via comments.

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