An Unfortunate Event

Last Saturday, I discussed with Shu Mei my desire to get rid of the echo in the computer room. It is my desire to incorporate audio recording in the computer-based English training program, and Shu Mei has had me make English recordings from time-to-time for her various projects. The latest one was two weeks ago, when she had me record several children’s stories and an English speech for the school where she worked. I want the walls in the room to absorb the sound, rather than bounce it back. I looked at several options and weighed the pricing. The cheapest one I found was to glue thin carpet tiles to the walls. The cost of this would be half as much as the next option, acoustic tiling, and probably more aesthetically pleasing. I told Shu Mei the price and she okayed it. Then, I asked her if we could go to B&Q and she said she had a meeting from noon on. Apparently, she decided to try and sell the fuel pill program again. She had not done anything with it for nearly a month, so I thought she had given it up. Shu Mei said we should go the following Saturday (today) to B&Q, which I agreed to do.
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Yesterday (Friday) Shu Mei told me that there would be a family get together today at our house, because her mother wanted to eat turkey. I asked about going to B&Q and she said there wouldn’t be time. She said I could take the boys there without her, though. I intended to do so, but felt physically ill on Saturday morning and lied in bed. I wasn’t very sick, and would have probably gotten up and left, if it weren’t for the uncaring attitude Shu Mei demonstrated toward me. I could have died there, alone in bed, and she wouldn’t have known it until her family members arrived for the get-together and asked where I was. In addition, I had a lot of questions for the B&Q staff and Shu Mei was needed to translate them. In the past, she’s been very helpful at this. So, I just stayed in bed throughout most of the day, being joined by Tyley for his morning nap and Billy and Tyley for their afternoon nap.

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I was up and about before her family members arrived. I even managed to clean the bathroom and computer room. As they arrived, I was just finishing up the computer room and Shu Mei’s brother-in-law approached me. It is rare that he joins in any of the family activities, having had some kind of run-in with Shu Mei’s father years ago. However, every time he has been there, he speaks to me in Chinese, asking why it is that I haven’t learned the language yet, after living here so long. I have developed a much greater tolerance for people who live in a foreign country and cannot speak the common language of that country. All those Chinese people who spend their lives in the various Chinatowns of America are okay by me. I feel that if they want to live in America and not learn English, more power to them. By the same token, I don’t think any government funding should go to communication in other languages in the U.S. except English. Let me tell you, though, the situation here is different than that of the U.S. There are enough people here that speak English to where someone (like me) doesn’t really need to learn Chinese to function in this country. In the U.S., there aren’t enough Chinese speakers in most of the country to accommodate for someone only speaking that language and living there. Shu Mei’s brother-in-law is simply intolerant of me not speaking his language, as are a lot of people here. Whether I should learn Chinese or not is irrelevant, intolerance is not a good thing. Honestly, I should learn to speak Chinese and have been remiss in this responsibility. I intend to rededicate myself toward learning Chinese in the future, as it would be a great helpmate in my financial options in the future.

The dinner was good. Shu Mei is a great cook. However, the turkey was as tough as leather. That wasn’t Shu Mei’s fault. It’s the way that they raise turkeys here. Nobody ate much of it except for Shu Mei’s mother and me. Those in attendance were all of Mei Hwa’s family, except Annie, all of Shu Mei’s older brother’s family, and Shu Mei’s mother. Her father is away on a trip and her younger brother had to attend the wedding of a friend. I had rented Spiderman for the kids to watch. After eating, everyone sat around “yelling” to each other. I joked with Shu Mei that I wanted to record it, because it literally sounded like a yelling competition. Chinese is not a quiet language at all and Taiwanese, what they were mainly speaking last night, is even louder. So, there was a lot of noise bouncing back and forth between the concrete walls. As usual, it gave me a headache, but I’m used to it by now.

Shortly after everyone was done eating, Tyley got a bit rambunctious and started running. Just as soon as he started to do this, he slipped and fell. He fell backwards, slipping on something. I don’t know what, exactly. I think it was some spilled soda, but I’m not sure. I was mainly concerned with him, as he immediately began to cry. Then the yelling began. Shu Mei started, by yelling at him in English that he got what he deserved for running. Sensing his crying would turn into throwing up, as it often has in the past, I went and picked him up to calm him. That is when Shu Mei’s mother yelled VERY loudly in his ear, not more than three inches away from him, which made him go hysterical and cry even harder. I’m sure Shu Mei’s mother was yelling good things to him, like “It’s okay!!! You’re fine!!!” But to a two-year-old, it is still yelling. I don’t understand how she doesn’t realize this, yelling right in his ear like that. I knew that it was important to get him calmed down, as he has a habit of throwing up if he cries too much, and went to the bedroom, to a quiet spot. I had barely opened the door when he began throwing up. He threw up all over me. I tried to cup the vomit between us, but some of it got on the floor. I was going to give him a bath and saw Shu Mei out of the corner of my eye coming out of the kitchen with a mop. She was going to clean up whatever had spilled where Tyley slipped.
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I said, “Shu Mei, can you clean this up after you’re done there?” pointing to the vomit on the floor. She said, “Leave me alone.” I reiterated, “This needs to be cleaned up.” She yelled, “You shut up!” and continued on toward the coffee table. It was then that I got angry. I couldn’t believe that whatever spilled in the living room was more important to her than me, or Tyley for that matter. I slammed the door to the bedroom shut. As I went to the bathroom to clean Tyley and myself off, I could hear Shu Mei yelling something in Chinese, out in the living room. It was obvious that she was complaining about me. Knowing that her sister, Mei Hwa, speaks some English I returned to the living room where everyone was and told Mei Hwa to tell everyone that I slammed the door because Shu Mei had told me to shut up. Mei Hwa didn’t even acknowledge that I was talking to her and just went to grab Tyley away from me. I don’t know what she was thinking, probably that here was some madman holding a small child and she better get the child away from him as quickly as possible, lest he hurt the child. I really don’t know. But, I do know that she wasn’t acknowledging me as the father of that child, me who is someone that has spent more time with that child, caring and nurturing that child, than any other father I know of, including her own father and the man she is married to, the father of her children. It made me mad that she wasn’t even listening to me. In fact, I tried to explain to her, as she was grabbing Tyley by the arm and trying to pull him away from me (his father), that she has probably never told her husband to shut up and wondered what would be his reaction if she did. She just said, “Shu Mei has been very busy.” I guess this was meant to excuse Shu Mei’s actions, as if anything could.

Then, Shu Mei’s mother got involved and grabbed Tyley’s other arm. I said to both of them, “No, I will give him a bath. I have given him hundreds of baths. I think I can handle that.” They didn’t even attempt to understand me and continued to grab him by the arms. What is really upsetting is that my wife, Shu Mei, stood idly by, watching all of this. I had to literally pull Tyley away from them and walk between them into the bedroom and then to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. Then, I gave Tyley a bath and I took a shower alongside him. It was at that time when I noticed the greenish-purple marks, up and down both of his arms, where Mei Hwa and Shu Mei’s mother had grabbed him. I became angry again. Not only had they disrespected me as his father, believing in some way that they could care for him better than I could, but they had injured him in the process of doing that. It donned on me why Tyley seems to have a new mark on his body every day, when I return home from work. He isn’t accident prone, he’s unsupervised. I understand a little boy getting banged up and bruised every so often. That’s normal. However, when it happens because nobody is watching him or happens at the hands of people who are supposed to be his loving family, that is wrong.
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I know Mei Hwa and my mother-in-law meant Tyley no harm. It was an accident, but I’m 100 percent certain they’ll never apologize for it. That would mean they would lose face and people in this culture just don’t do that. Vain pride is seen as something great, while humility is seen as a weakness. That is the reason Shu Mei has never once apologized for anything. The words “I’m sorry” are foreign to her. Little did I know that every time I said “I’m sorry” to Shu Mei I was coming across as being weaker. I’ve said those words so many times that she must view me as the weakest person in the world.

Anyway, I called Mei Hwa and her mother to the bathroom to show them the bruises. Their attitudes were what made me really angry. They just smiled and said, “Mei guanshi”, which means “No problem.” It is the most commonly used phrase in Chinese and is used for literally everything. I’m pretty certain when a murderer kills someone that is what s/he says when caught by the police. To me, it was a problem, though. And no amount of trying to understand a different culture can make me understand how it is okay to hurt a child, whether accidentally or otherwise. Obviously, if the situation took place in America and Shu Mei was in my place, I have no doubt that my sister and mother would do everything they could to apologize to her for the mishap. There would be no uncaring, smiling, “no problem” response. That is the culture I understand and one I am proud of. It isn’t a perfect culture, and freely admits it has problems (without the stigma of admitting problems as being a sign of weakness), but it is the best one there is.

In my anger, I told Mei Hwa that neither she nor her mother are to take care of Tyley or Billy again, until I feel they respect me as their father and am assured that they can actually take care of them. It is Shu Mei’s often-used practice to drop the boys off at Mei Hwa’s or her mother’s, though. And I knew, even as I said those words, that Shu Mei would not support me on this. She hasn’t supported me on anything else to do with the family, why would she start now? In fact, when I later asked Shu Mei if her family here was more important than her sons, she replied “Of course” and told me, once again, that she wanted a divorce and I should take both of the boys.
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After I got no satisfaction from Mei Hwa and Shu Mei’s mother, I went outside and asked everyone to go home. Normally, family get-togethers drag on here for hours upon end. I just didn’t want those ill feelings being around any longer and knew already that Shu Mei was in divorce mode again. So, I asked everyone to leave. I went into the kitchen and tried to talk to Shu Mei, but her mother was yelling at the top of her lungs. Please understand that, though it looks and sounds like people are mad here when they are yelling, they usually aren’t. I imagine Shu Mei’s mother was just trying to say something uplifting to Shu Mei, in a very loud way. The problem I had with that was she wouldn’t let me get in a word edgewise, so I upped my volume level, too. I smiled, and yelled, “Hey! I can yell, too. You wanna hear me yell!?” Then, I really yelled loudly, “HOW’S THIS!?” All the time, I smiled. I think she got the hint, and quit talking so I could speak to Shu Mei. But, Shu Mei had already turned a deaf ear to anything I had to say. Instead of support me as a loving wife would, she saw the whole escapade as an assault on her family by me. It merely gave her more justification to push us farther apart.

I tried to speak to her later, after everyone else left, but she said it was pointless. She wanted a divorce and that was it. She said that if I pursued talking to her further, she would just leave. She also said she was going to change the airplane tickets as soon as possible, so that Billy, Tyley, and I could leave here and never come back. She said, “I just want you out of MY house.”

Within minutes, I could hear Shu Mei snoring from inside the boys’ room, while Billy and Tyley slept in my bedroom. I knelt down beside my bed and prayed. I don’t know how long I prayed, but it was more than a few hours and was the longest prayer I’ve said in a long time. After my prayer, I did a lot of self-reflecting for a couple of more hours and then said another prayer. I don’t know what the future will have in store, but I am thankful that I have Billy and Tyley with me. They are the one shining light of my life. If Shu Mei would agree to counseling, we really could have a successful relationship. We both have problems. We both need to quit acting like ostriches, sticking our heads in the ground, and deal with the problems. A family therapist could help us immensely. The problem is that Shu Mei is a traditional Chinese woman and they don’t believe in psycho-therapy. To them, it is hokus pokus and leads to losing face, a big taboo in this culture.

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