THUS I CAME – VOICELESS SHORT STORIES
by Prof. Tien C. Lee
Everyone has a past; some of it is memorable but most of it indeed is lost deliberately or unintentionally. The present flashes through, leaving little memorabia from the past. Elusive is the future, harvesting only karmas seeded at the moment.
This book is essentially a revised edition of Thus I Came – Short Stories that I Have Been Privileged to Relate. Each story originates from personal experience. None is an extraordinary, shocking event. The stories are so common that you may have heard or can relate to your own experiences in many untold but modified forms. As the stories evolve, I also add some relevant legendary fictions.
First I share with you my joy of parenting and grand-parenting – the naive wisdom of toddlers and pre-kindergartners. I hope my recollection can relight the fun memories of your own as a child, parent, or grandparent. Also, I wish I could inspire you to write your own stories for your offspring. (Part A).
Next, I describe the struggle endured together by me as a pupil and my mother as a de facto single mother with my three younger siblings, subsequent to my father’s handcuff to political prisons run by the Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan. For survival, my mother had engaged as a migrating, transient farm laborer, forester (weed abatement and seedlings planting), and construction worker. In between she lost a land-lease right through her brother’s chicanery; and she was arrested once and publicly humiliated for chewing sugar cane while collecting cane sheaths (leaves) for kindling to firewood. After a near-crippling fall with the collapse of construction scaffolding when I was in the 4th grade (1952), she involuntarily changed her career and transformed herself to run a small one-person family eatery business. A few years later amid her misdiagnosed chronic illness, her own business withered to end as my father’s post-prison carpentry business expanded. (Part B).
Meanwhile during my primary school years, I had wandered, skipping some school hours daily for nearly one year, between the rice paddies or tobacco plantations with my baby sister strapped on my back in search of my mother for breast feeding. I was reprimanded for picking fruit unethically but awaken to shedding my shame as one son of a political prisoner. I was arrested once for attempting to steal national treasure – fire wood. I pulled purslane weed from other people’s gardens to feed pigs; I gathered frogs, lung fish, and fresh-water clams for supplementary nutrients; and I peddled by roadside or from village to village for pitiful profit to help my mother. I rebelled once against one teacher for unmemorable cause that ended in his repeated slapping on my face; and I earned a day-long shaming chalk-tattoo on my face from another teacher for doing other students’ homework in exchange for school supplies. I remember one of my two younger sisters fell, figuratively under my watch, into a sewage ditch along a dirt road outside my backyard; I pulled her out and cleaned her in an irrigation ditch on the other side of the road; she died some time later for unknown disease. I remember my kid sister was then banished to a new, small frontier hamlet with my Mom’s adoptive parents for the sake of my sister’s survival. She suffered mentally in childhood development because there was no other child around the hamlet for any interaction. (Part B).
I wept once and apologized to my Mom for downgrade in my school performance; and my mother, with tears in her eyes, lodged privately a helpless complaint of unfairness in grading because of my family’s political and economic background. Nevertheless, endowed with an illiterate mother’s instinct, she comforted me with a life-time motto: Pay no attention to class ranking but ask yourself whether you have learned something. Fortunately, that motto together with a benefactor teacher’s inspiration in my 5th and 6th grade somehow propels me, the only one in my class of about 150 pupils in a poor rural school, to college through a bumpy path dotted with financial and legal hiccups, and eventually to becoming a professor in an American university. It was all a dream I had never dared to dream as I grew up until realization. More remarkable, an illiterate, rustic woman had the fortune to see her offspring attained five PhDs and numerous master and bachelor degrees. (Part B).
I abridged and translated my father’s memoir on his five-year journey through prison hell, his post-prison rehabilitation and business struggle, and his inevitable bankruptcy in 1970 when I was a graduate student. For my children and grandchildren and on the basis of my father’s painstaking chronology and verification, I highlighted the good and the bad of my struggling ancestors in the past 200 years. Along the way, I also described briefly a few cases of brutality, lawlessness, and corruption that my ancestors had gone through in the waning days of the last Chinese kingdom and during the 50 years’ rule of Taiwan by Japanese. (Part D).
In addition and outside my academic career paths, I chanced upon a few oddities. To appreciate the good, I highlighted some ugly events (Part E). I valued my one-year stint as an army officer in Taiwan; the experience molded me into a better and more mature person. (Part C).
This second edition corrects spelling errors and misuse of some words in the earlier edition. I apologize for the errors that I missed during my rush in proof reading. Now I have outlived my medical prognoses. I revised it and expanded it to name the sequel as: Thus I Came – Voiceless Short Stories. Most significantly, I add a section on my academic career, chronicled along my various lines of studies. I have published widely in peer review journals and I recount what motivated me to move from one sub-discipline into another. In passing with references to a publication list, I post my achievements and failures. The fruits grew out of my basic and application research in four decades. None is earthshaking breakthrough but some will stand the test of time, I believe (Part F). I also add some pictures, which were not taken when and where my storied events happened because my family could not afford then the luxury of photo-picture taking. (Part G).
In addition to the two versions of this book (Thus I Came), I have published Applied Mathematics in Hydrogeology (1999) and two books on my rock collections: Wandering in Rock Country – One Rock, One Story (2018) and its sequel: Wandering in Rock Country – II. Stories beyond Beauty (2020).
About the cover picture: The no-name tree and birds were painted by my mother during her advanced age. I cherished its primitive presentation, reflecting her state of simple mind and endless wishes for the family tree to grow with eternal cheer by the birds. Birding happens to be the hobby of one of her grandsons. The inset at the lower left corner is a train of conglomerates at the foothill of the Flaming Mountains; it is a natural berm to Wuchi River by my birth village. The scene reminds me of my train ride at 06:19 during my junior high school days (Section B16).
I appreciate the following ladies and gentlemen who enabled me to tell my real-life stories today.
My benefactor teacher Mr. Chung-ben Lee in my 5th and 6th grade catapulted me from the ruin in schooling and thrusted me onto a path beyond elementary school. Teacher Ms. Peichen Lam at my junior high school made geometry enjoyable and, in retrospect, she ignited my life-long interest in applied mathematics. I remember my poor villagers and relatives who gave us helping hands when my Mom was drowning financially.
Dr. John Bolm was my fellow graduate student. I met him in 1967 when I came to USA for advanced studies. His confidence in me seeded my success in sailing through the American educational system. His suggestion of my quitting a summer job led inadvertently to my career course change from geology to geophysics. My kids valued Uncle John’s and Auntie Karen’s passion as they grew up. To my family’s sorrow, Karen went to Heaven years ago and John followed in early 2018.
Dr. Thomas L. Henyey – All good things materialized after Professor Henyey took risk of me as a convert in geophysics. My mentor turned me into a hand-on laboratory and field geophysicist. He also let me roam around to develop my mathematical skill in finite element analysis and analytical solutions. Some bear fruits eventually and a few products can stand the test of time. Dr. Ta-liang Teng – Professor Teng taught me seismology and commenced my taste in the academia of publish or perish.
Dr. Lewis Cohen – During the incubation stage in my academic career, my colleague Lew helped me to hatch editorially several manuscripts. Dr. Shawn Biehler – I cherish my long-term colleague who witnessed my sworn-in as a citizen of the United States of America, and more significantly, facilitated me to wear the hat of an applied geophysicist. Dr. Douglas M. Morton – It is tough to bud out of a perceived niche arena of science specialty. I am fortunate to associate with my colleague and friend Dr. Morton who paved a branch path that led to many prosperous years in my pursuit of hydrogeology. He also laid the foundation for my son CT to excel in bird watching and field observation of rocks.
Dr. Brian N. Damiata – My former student and colleague assisted me to run a smoothly operated program in applied geophysics/hydrogeology during my last decade of active academic career. I have benefitted from our candid discussions in science and operation. Dr. Tomas Perina – As a former student, Tom kept me from losing touch with reality in hydrogeology.
And lastly, nothing good would have happened without the lasting support of my wife, Zora, be it at time of Z or A as we pedaled from Z toward A in life. To conclude, I wish someone could say, someday and somehow, that he or she remembers a little bit about me as I proceed from Thus I Came to thus I shall go.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part A: PRE-KINDERGARTENERS’ WORLD ----- ------ ------ ------ 1 B: MY MOTHER AND I ------ ------ ------ ------ 15 C: MILITARY VENTURE ------ ------ ------ ------ 53 D: MY ANCESTRY ------ ------ ------ ------ 69 E: WHAT NOT ------ ------ ------ ------ 143 F: COULD BE BETTER ------ ------ ------ ------ 183 G: LIST OF FIGURES ------ ------ ------ ------ 207
Published in -/2020
Donated by Prof. Tien C. Lee 12/2020
Posted in 12/2020