661. Unforgettable/Nami Yang/11/2018


By: Nami Yang

Translated by: Philip Lee

There are countless ways to cook chicken and I have tasted many of them. For example, I have had steamed chicken, chicken with onion and oil, drunken chicken, poached chicken, General Tso’s chicken, garlic chicken, BBQ chicken, saltwater chicken, fried chicken, grilled chicken, sesame oil chicken, stewed chicken, smoked chicken, Hainan chicken, etc. I have also done a bit of cooking myself. But the most memorable chicken I have had were the drumsticks that my mother used to cook.

I asked my mother about the secret ingredients she might have added to make the drumsticks taste so good, a taste that I will never forget. She replied with a smile and said,” I don’t know about that. I prepared them with just ordinary ingredients. Perhaps you were very hungry at the time. Or perhaps it was the first time you were leaving home to study in a faraway school up north.” Could she be right? Was it because of my sadness from leaving home? Or was it because of the complex emotions I had during that special period in my life where I experienced the full depth of my mother’s love for me? I think the drumsticks were a trigger that released the emotions that were stored up inside of me because of the experience of leaving home and the other events that were happening in my life. With every clacking and squeaking sound, the train took me further and further away from home. I tried not to shed tears by forcing myself to watch the scenery outside as it glided backward and quickly disappeared into the rear of the train like a puff of smoke.

The years went by in the blink of an eye. Standing in front of me was my own daughter with her luggage all packed up and ready to leave home. She was headed to New York to attend medical school. She was interested in ophthalmology, a profession that she has aimed to take up ever since age 15. An uncle once commented to her, “What great hand-eye coordination you have. Maybe you should become an eye doctor.” Perhaps the uncle’s prediction came true unintentionally, but the early signs were there. Her uncle was praising her for finding a lost origami bird she had made earlier. It was tiny, and it took me a long time and a great deal of effort looking for it to no avail, with glasses, flashlight and all.  There was another time when I took her to the doctor’s office for a routine eye check-up. We watched a video on cataract surgery in the reception area while we waited for our turn. The video played over and over in a loop during the 30 minutes we were there and not once did she look away from the video. Her career choice seemed to have been sealed right then and there. She has not wavered from it ever since.

My daughter and her brother were both fortunate to have attended magnet programs from elementary school through high school. I can still recall the meeting I had with one of her teachers when she was in the 6th grade. It was the last meeting of the school year. I asked the teacher whether she had any insight as to the path that best suited her, a direction that would be good for her future development. The teacher was unusually reassuring in her reply. She said: “I can’t say this about any other students in the class. But for Lisa, I am pretty sure she would be successful in any field she chooses. You can be certain of that.”  I took the teacher’s words half-heartedly and went home.

My daughter showed a lot of interest in ballet and gymnastics since she was little but had to give them up because of her grandmother’s illness. Her grandmother was living with us in Los Angeles at the time. Later she became interested in modern dance and was very happy to join her high school dance program. While she performed many times in her senior year, she never had any problem completing all her school work despite being very busy with her dance activities. Her elective classes in Spanish paid off significantly when she worked for a hospital in Spanish Harlem, New York, and in performing her job as an ophthalmologist at PIH Health Medical Group in California. Upon her graduation from high school, she was offered a partial scholarship from Johns Hopkins University. She decided to turn it down in favor of the four-year full scholarship from UCLA. She made this decision by taking into account the meager income her parents made. Upon her graduation from UCLA, she was accepted into a medical school program in New York, a Catholic institution called New York Medical College. She decided to enroll in that program after an interview with the school. She then packed up and flew to New York with her luggage in tow. She made both trips unassisted and alone. We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Boa-Ding Tseng of New Jersey who offered great hospitality to my daughter.  During her study in New York, she was able to apply for a loan that covered her tuition and living expenses. She even saved up enough money to buy a digital piano, something that she used to alleviate stress from her demanding medical school curriculum. She was so determined to pursue her career goals that nothing got in her way. There were never any regrets or complaints about her study in New York. The only comment she made when she completed medical school and returned to California was, “Oh! It feels great to be back under the bright sun and blue skies.”

When I asked my daughter ” What was the most memorable thing in your four years of medical school?” She thought about it for a moment and replied: “It was my anatomy class.” She continued to explain: “When you dissect a human body and see all the organs laid out in front of you, you are greatly impressed by God’s wonderful design! Seeing the complex organs intricately connected to perform specific functions was amazing. Think about it, all of that comes about shortly after the union between a sperm and an egg. It was simply miraculous. I was totally amazed by the perfection and completeness of it all. What I learned in the class strengthened my faith.” Another thing that had impressed her was seeing the unbelievable structure of a human eye. No doubt she wanted to fulfill her childhood dream by becoming an ophthalmologist, but the fact that she didn’t have to deal with large quantity of blood loss during an eye surgery also played a role in her specialist decision.

Four years of demanding medical school came to an end and I went to my daughter’s graduation which was held in Carnegie Hall. An acapella voice band performed during the ceremony and she was one of the singers.  When she returned home, she held a small piano recital for our church friends in order to show her appreciation for their prayers, support, and encouragement during the four years of medical school. (Her piano teacher for 7 years, Mr. Bernardo Segall, was an accomplished musician with excellent credentials. He taught at USC and was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He was a 4th generation legacy pupil of the famed composer Franz Liszt.) Speaking in fluent Taiwanese, she shared with the audience about the abundance of God’s grace during her four years of medical school. She was grateful for the chance to study human anatomy and dissection and how the students learned to express gratitude to the people who donated their bodies for the class through a family service. She spoke briefly on her bout with pneumonia, which was so severe that it left her scarcely able to breathe for days, and there were moments when she feared she would not survive. Her roommates took turns caring for her. I had offered to go and take care of her but she refused at the time. She did not ask for me during this ordeal because she did not want to be a burden. Much later, when I found out how dire her situation had been, my heart really ached, and I felt remorseful for not being there for her.

The audience fell into an uneasy silence upon hearing this, so her brother said,” Had I known about the fun you could have in medical schools, like singing acapella or having the leisure time to play the piano, I would have done it myself.” A laughter broke out in the room after hearing his remarks. But I know better. My son is not the type of person who could deal with cadavers with faded colors, that weren’t breathing and was laden with formaldehyde odors. My son is deeply compassionate; he really loves his sister. I recalled an incident that took place when he was 4 or 5. One time I was scolding my daughter for one reason or another. Just as I was about to do my 1,2,3 count, he ran to me with his arms outstretched in a protective posture, defending his sister. With tears in his eyes, he yelled:” Mom! Stop scolding her! Stop…” I was startled by his action at first, but then I was moved because I realized that he would be there to protect his sister if something were to happen to me.

There was a 1 year internship requirement after completing medical school. She had a two-week break before the internship program began. She decided to visit her grandma in Taiwan instead of taking a vacation trip. She said:” I would like to visit Grandma. We can always take a vacation trip some other time.” Grandma was ecstatic during the two weeks she stayed with her in Taiwan. San Jose was the location for her first year of internship and she needed a car for her daily commute. Although she had gotten her driver’s license at 16, she had not been driving up to that point. She used a small gift from her parents, got a loan, and purchased her first car. She drove off to San Jose. I couldn’t accompany her for the trip despite being uneasy about the idea of her long trip. All I could do was place her safety in God’s hands. When she finished her first year of internship, she invited me to visit her. She picked me up at the airport and we drove around a bit the next day. We stopped by a church, visited some friends, and ended the day by dropping me off at the airport. I was much more at ease with her driving ability after that visit.

I learned about an incident that took place during her training. She tended to down-play problems, so I found out about it after the fact. Near the beginning of her inpatient rotation, there was a day when she was responsible for 10 extremely sick patients. Exhausted and overwhelmed, she broke down and began to cry uncontrollably. The supervising doctor asked her to go home and start again the next day. She was able to recover and rise to meet the challenges of the demanding program after that. It was the only time she cried due to being overwhelmed. The rest of her residency took place again at New York Medical College. Not only was she able to drive to work without any problems, she also learned to parallel park, a skill that I was not able to master.

A life with dreams is a wonderful thing, especially when they come true and many of her dreams came true. She purchased her first home despite being laden with a sizable student loan and an even bigger home loan. She did this so her mom would be spared of the trouble of moving. She opened her own office, fulfilling her dream of treating patients with eye illnesses. She took her mom to Tahiti, fulfilling her mom’s dream of seeing Tahitian natives who were in Gauguin’s paintings. Her biggest dream came true when God sent an angel to be her husband. She also dreamed of being a mother.  She fulfilled that dream by giving birth to two children of her own. The two little boys gave me the immense joy of being a grandmother.  Recently at the dinner table, she declared enthusiastically,” We finally paid off my student loans!” It had been 18 years in the making, which had started since her graduation from medical school. The little girl who always said her favorite things were “sleeping” and “being pretty” grew up to be a strong woman and a dependable mom. She has been a participant in medical outreach ministries in Taiwanese-American and other communities. She does this out of her faith and the desire to serve those who need but can’t afford eye care. It’s amazing how many memories a drumstick can stir up. I hear “sun rise, sun set…” the words sung by the man in the movie “Fiddler on the Roof.” Ah! Mother and daughter, mother and daughter, if only my mother were here. I think she would be as grateful as I was with her own memories and all the laments that came with them.


Source from Nami Yang

Posted in 04/2019