Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Visiting Taichung, Taiwan and Saying Goodbye to Grandpa - May 12 - May 17

I'm dedicating this post to my beloved Grandpa, who passed away on Friday, May 14. He was 101 years old.

My Grandpa had been very healthy his entire life. He had no major illnesses. No high blood pressure and no diabetes. His skin was radiant with no wrinkles. I last visited him in September 2005, when he was 97 years old. Here's me and Grandpa when I last saw him.

Unfortunately, Grandpa caught a cold in mid-April. He had high fever and was rushed to the hospital. He was unconscious. He never recovered and his condition worsened as time went on. He was on life support with machines that made him sound like Darth Vader in Star Wars. His body was swollen from the strong antibiotics. He had blood sepsis. My Mom went to Taiwan immediately and was there for 3 weeks. She came back to the U.S. the week I was in Washington, DC (see previous blog). However, the Monday morning after I returned from my East Coast trip, Mom told me they've decided to turn off the machines that had been keeping Grandpa alive, so I booked a flight going out that afternoon and went back to Taiwan to say goodbye to Grandpa. I had to see him one last time.

Grandpa was in the ICU with tubes sticking in him. He was in a very bad shape, so I didn't take any pictures of him. After a 14.5 hours non-stop flight, I arrived in Taiwan at 11:30pm on Tuesday, May 11. I was happy to see my cousin Christina waiting for me in the arrival hall when I stepped out. Christina is 8 years younger than me, and she and I had been close growing up. She's more like my little sister than a cousin to me.

We lived in Taichung, which is the central part of Taiwan, and where Grandpa was. My uncle picked us up at 1am and took us straight to the hospital. After a 90-minute car ride, we saw Grandpa. Christina and I both called out to him, and told him that I was back from America to see him. His eyes were half closed, but for a few seconds, his eye balls moved and his jaw moved slightly as if he was trying to speak. As heartbroken as I was to see him like this, I was happy he knew that I had gone to see him, smiled at him, and told him how much I loved him.

Later that day, my uncle told me while he was cleaning up Grandpa's stuff from the old house, which had been leveled for new development, he found tons of letters and photographs kept by Grandpa. Some letters dated back to 70 years ago in the 1930's. It's incredible. I said we should donate these to a museum. Here's a picture of my Grandma in her early days. My Grandma passed away peacefully in her sleep in 1998. She was 84.

My Grandma suffered from Alzheimer's for more than 10 years before her passing. During those years, my Grandpa took care of her despite his own old age. He fed her, clothed her, bathed her, and even changed her diapers, all the while watching out for her safety. Grandpa had short temper and sometimes would become frustrated by Grandma's forgetfulness, but he never gave up caring for her until the end. I learned A LOT about marriage and what true love really is by watching them. However, while going through those old letters, I found out their marriage hadn't always been easy and happy. In fact, it was extremely rocky in the first 6 years until my uncle's birth in 1952. At one point, my Grandma even thought about suicide for the pain that she was going through. Here are letters written from Grandma to Grandpa in 1949, when my Mom was barely 2 years old, and when their marriage was very difficult.

I also found photos of my Mom. I'm guessing this one was taken right before she married my father. Isn't she beautiful? I wished I had her genes.

The ICU allowed us to visit Grandpa 3 time a day: 10:30am, 2pm, and 7:30pm. Since my uncle had to work, Christina shuttled me back and forth on her scooter. In Taiwan, scooters are typical transportation. You ride it on open road alongside cars. When Christina took my Mom around a few weeks ago, my Mom was scared of the speed and closed her eyes during the ride. We teased her about it. It had been more than 20 years since I had ridden on one of these, so I was having a ball! Here's Christina and I getting ready to see Grandpa at the hospital. Don't we look like we were ready to rob a bank? :D

Here's a video clip I took from one of our scooter rides. The streets were pretty empty that day.

Look at all the scooters! It's like this everywhere.

After visiting Grandpa, Christina took me around our old neighborhood. I went to see my elementary school.

My junior high school, a Catholic all girls' school (junior high + high school). I was there when they unveiled the mosaic Jesus image. My cousin's wife, who also went to this school (high school), dedicated a tile in her name.

Then, Christina took me to see what used to be the veterans' village. Between 1945-1949, after the Communists took over China during the Civil War, those who fought for Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taiwan. The democratic government built veterans' villages for all the military families to live in. The house that my grandparents got, not only did I, my brother, and my cousins grew up in it, but my mother and uncle did as well. Years ago, the government built new homes for these veterans and relocated them because these houses were becoming too old. They've leveled the whole village, but the tree is still standing, which I still remember coming home to.

The painted wall used to be my kindergarten.

This is the road I took to grandparents' house every day after school. The white building on the right used to be a large rice paddy. There were even snakes in the irrigation ditch alongside the road. Boys from my elementary school used to drop rocks on them when we walked home. I even killed one myself once.

No, I can't ride a scooter, but I can pose!

Surprisingly, there are still spots of rice paddies here and there.

Later on that evening before we visited Grandpa again, my uncle took me to this Japanese noodle place where the bowl was larger than my head!

My Aunt and 2 other cousins also came down from Taipei Wednesday night. On Thursday, after we saw Grandpa, we went to a popular fast food chain called Mos Burger. It's actually Japanese owned. They had burgers with rice buns. It's pretty good.

My uncle and his family, plus my cousin's girlfriend. My cousins are more like my little sister and brothers. They actually call me their big sis.

Night market in Taiwan. Night time is never dark, dull, and boring in Taiwan!

Food stand. You can ask to cook any of these delicacies right on the spot. Quick and fresh.

Thursday afternoon, we all gathered in the hospital. A pastor from the church my Mom went to came and prayed for Grandpa. We took turns to say our goodbyes. I thanked Grandpa for raising me, teaching me how to read, write, and even sing the national anthem at the age of 1. I thanked him for his unconditional love and told him I loved him very, very much. I told him that Jesus loves him. I told him to rest well and that I'll see him and Grandma again in Heaven soon.

We've decided to have the doctor turn off his life support at 1am Friday (May 14) morning. The doctor and my cousin's girlfriend who is a nurse, told us it'd take a few hours and sometimes days for a person to pass once the life support was taken off. Since we live close to the hospital, the doctor told us he'd call when Grandpa's heart rate and blood pressure levels decline to a low, so we can come to the hospital to be with him for the final moments.

I woke up at 1:07am and my heart was pounding like crazy, because I knew what was happening to Grandpa. I got up and prayed urgently for Jesus to take Grandpa home peacefully and painlessly. I prayed that God would send angels singing Grandpa's favorite Chinese opera and make him happy while he goes to Heaven. I prayed for about half an hour, then I decided I wanted to sing couple of hymns to Grandpa when I get to the hospital while he passes. I was jotting down lyrics from the Internet when my Aunt came knocking on my door a little past 2am. I thought it was time to go, but instead, she said the hospital had called; Grandpa had passed at 1:41am. The doctor said his vitals were on a steady and rapid decline soon after the machines were turned off, and there wasn't enough time to notify us.

We went to the hospital. They had removed the tubes from Grandpa. I touched his head and his face and he was still warm. His face was peaceful and serene; there wasn't even any sign of frown. I led everyone in a short prayer thanking God for taking Grandpa to Heaven, and that Grandpa had gone peacefully. We all touched him and told him we loved him. I tried my hardest to fight my tears, and sang my Mom's favorite hymn, As The Deer to him.

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after thee
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

You alone are my strength my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

I wanted to go on singing other versus, but I couldn't. It was very hard to say goodbye to him and part from him. I touched him until he started to turn cold. Then the nurses dressed him and the funeral home people came. They transferred the body out of the hospital and into the city morgue. We all followed and said our goodbyes before they put Grandpa in the freezer.

When Grandma died, Grandpa pretty much did all the planning, so we didn't really know what to do. Plus, my cousins were still young 12 years ago. This time, we are old enough to help. Christina studied advertising design and works at the Taipei city zoo's educational department, so she's experienced in publishing content in various forms. She took charge of the design and publishing of Grandpa's memorial service announcement. I assisted her in writing the announcement, picking out the layout, and proofing the content. My uncle told me he was very pleased to see Christina and I work together. He's very happy to see the strong bond between us sisters.

We found some calligraphy left by Grandpa. Christina took a photo of these and she's putting them in the announcement. I also have a scroll hanging at my place written by Grandpa.

My stomach had been queasy the entire week due to jetlag and not used to the food in Taiwan anymore. It's frustrating because I miss all the food but couldn't eat much! My uncle took me to see our old family doctor, Dr. Lin. It's been 22 years since I last saw him. He was very happy to have seen me. He told me while he was cleaning his office a week ago, he found a picture of my family that my Mom had sent him taken at my high school graduation. What a coincidence. Here's Dr. Lin and I at his clinic.

Dr. Lin's clinic is right across from the marketplace, so my Aunt and I went for a walk. My Mom had been telling me that it's the season for rose apples, which is my favorite fruit that we don't get here in the U.S. (See Singapore blog from last year.) Mom called everyday asking if I had eaten rose apples, but I hadn't had time until now. We bought at least 10 of them and I think I ate 7 all by myself. They were so juicy and sweet.

This is how we shop in Taiwan. Fresh produces on the street at the market.

Fresh seafood. No freezer, no packaging.

They sell EVERYTHING at the marketplace. Pots and pans, utensils, tools, even shoes and clothes. There's a sale going on and these ladies were going wild.


I used to come to this marketplace with Grandma every morning when I was a little girl, following her around as she picked out ingredients to cook for lunch and dinner that day.

Uncle took us to a Japanese shabu shabu place for dinner that night.

On Sunday, I had lunch with my Godmother and her son. My Godmother is a professor and music director at the National Taichung University. She's also the conductor for the Taichung City Chinese Orchestra. She taught me how to play Chinese Zither and Chinese guitar, which I still play sometimes these days. Godmother took me to a sushi restaurant. Apparently, it's a very popular place because people were lining up before it opens at 11am! We ordered some calamari as starter. It was the best calamari I've had! So fresh!

I don't know what these were in English. I wanted to say sea bass but not sure.

These were considered expensive meals, but guess how much this sashimi dish was? USD $7!!! And this was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.

Here's my Godmother and I. Aside from my Grandma, my Mom, and my Aunt, this is the woman I also love dearly, who watched me grow up. She has traveled many places internationally and loves to try different cuisines just as I do, so we can talk just about everything and have a great time together. She even recommended a restaurant for me to try for my trip to Prague this summer! I love her so much.

The last evening that I was in Taichung, my uncle took us out to the mountains. Being a tropical island, mountains in Taiwan are very luscious and beautiful compared to mountains here in the U.S.

There were even little lambs at this resort/restaurant. So cute.

But, being Chinese, I couldn't resist the taste of lamb chops. Here I go again eating something I had just petted hours ago for dinner (see my Singapore blog about eating a stingray fillet for dinner after petting them hours before). I was a little skeptical when I ordered this, but they turned out to be quite delicious. They were very tender and succulent. Guess how much this was? USD$10!!! The price also included a small starter salad, dinner roll, a cup of coffee or glass of juice, and a dessert.

On Monday, my aunt and I went around the city on buses. I used to ride these buses to and from school each day. This brought back memories.

It was a very hot day. Temperature jumped to 34 degree Celsius (93 degree F) with 90% humidity! My Aunt and I decided to go to the marketplace and have some shaved ice to cool down. This has always been my favorite thing in summertime. :)

I noticed that my uncle had ordered spaghetti at different meals and found out that he likes pasta. Because my stomach was still acting up and the pasta he ordered the night before wasn't very tasty, I decided to cook our lunch before I head to the airport. Aunt and I bought fresh ingredients at the marketplace and I made this seafood pasta. I'm happy to have cooked in our home in Taichung. My Grandma would have been proud. :)

My aunt took the airport shuttle with me to send me off. I still had $400 Taiwan dollars on me (about USD$12) so it wasn't feasible for me to change them back to USD. After checking in my flight, I saw a poster for Chinese soup buns at the food court and my mouth watered. I treated my aunt to some soup buns and a roll of sushi. Everything came out to be $480 Taiwan dollars or USD$15. For USD$15, you can only buy a roll of sushi in the U.S.; there's no way you could get both sushi AND 10 soup buns for that price. My aunt was even complaining how expensive it is to eat at the airport. Ha! The soup buns turned out to be very yummy. We were both surprised by the quality.

It was hard to say goodbye to everyone. Not just Grandpa, but also my uncle, my aunt, my cousins, my Godmother, and all the elders who had seen me as a little girl. They are my family. There were other relatives and lots of high school friends (who went back to Taiwan after getting their degrees in the U.S.) whom I didn't get to see because I spent all my time in Taichung, and I miss them all.

I talked to my Mom and my uncle after Grandpa passed. Mom said she feels there's no purpose for her going back to Taiwan anymore now that both Grandma and Grandpa are gone. Uncle said he feels a void in his life now because he's used to the routine of spending time with Grandpa several times a day when he was at the nursing home. He misses playing with Grandpa, feeding him, listening to his stories, and making him laugh.

As for me, now that both Grandpa and Grandma are gone, and their old house leveled, I feel I've lost my root and my home. There's a void in my heart.

I haven't had any regrets in my life, but I do have one now: they couldn't live to see me give them great grand children.

But, I know I will reunite with them again in Heaven.

I love you and miss you so very much, Grandpa and Grandma.

See the entire photo album here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/purplejoy/sets/72157623967113865/


UPDATE: The memorial service for Grandpa was held on Saturday, May 29. I couldn't go back for his memorial service, but my Mom was there. Mom said it had been raining all week but the weather cleared that morning in time for Grandpa. The service was wonderful. Because Grandpa had been a 70-year member of the Chinese Nationalist Party aka Kuomintang (國民黨) founded by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and later led by Chiang Kai-Shek, they honored Grandpa by covering his coffin with the party's flag. Grandpa was cremated after the service. His ashes and Grandma's ashes were then moved to a tower dedicated to Kuomintang veterans in the mountains of Taichung. I went scouting their resting place while in Taiwan with my uncle, and we all liked the location. It's not a big place, and it's very peaceful and serene.

Grandpa's wish had been for all of his children and grandchildren to graduate from college. He did live to see that.

I am happy that Grandpa and Grandma are now together again, but sad that I wouldn't be able to hug them and kiss them again until I go to Heaven as well...

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