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me (as a child), Mom, maternal Grandpa

When my late maternal grandfather, Dr. Lieh Fu Chen, was not in session as a Taiwan senator, he was director of Cebu Eastern College in Cebu City, Philippines, a post he held for more than 30 years. A building was named after him, as you can see in this video (which refers to him as Dr. Chen Lieh Fu because the last name comes first in Chinese). He had fled mainland China when the Communists took over because he was an adviser to China’s Nationalist president Chiang Kai-Shek. My mom is the youngest of Grandpa’s four children.

The Philippines is a special, very personal place for me. I visited Grandpa (Gong Gong, in Cantonese) there several times throughout my childhood and teen years. One of my trips with Mom took 27 hours, from takeoff to landing (multiple flights, of course, and going through Manila) — my longest air trip ever. Every time we landed at the airport, men would swarm us to try to carry our luggage for cash. We declined. Gong Gong took me to my favorite restaurant, Lighthouse, where beautiful seashell sinks allowed you to wash your hands in the dining room before eating your dinner with your hands — I remember savoring rice wrapped in banana leaves with a variety of meats. Gong Gong‘s personal assistants took me to class at his school, so I could experience Filipino education. It’s been so many years that all I remember is watching the students do fun Christmas projects and things we American kids liked doing, too. My mom and I stayed in the dormitory, where Gong Gong lived. And Mom told me stories from his books about everything from politics to supernatural encounters.

… and Death

Grandpa's state funeral

Grandpa's state funeral

Those were the happier times. During the fall of my senior year in high school, we got the call to Houston that Gong Gong had died. He was a ripe 91 years old — God bless him — but it was sad, nonetheless. I missed several days of school to attend his funeral. It lasted one week, and I was there almost the whole time. It was an experience I will never forget. Being a government dignitary, Grandpa lay in state for people from across the world — from ambassadors to all sorts of friends — to view him. We, as family, were there to greet the hundreds of visitors every day. And at the end, we walked in his funeral procession up a hill for him to be cremated. Afterward, we picked out his bones from the ashes to save them in an urn to be displayed in a Houston mausoleum, where some of our family live.

A land I want to visit again
Now that I’m married, I would love to take my husband to this land full of friendly people who honk when passing other drivers, for safety. This land of the sweetest mangoes and creamiest coconut ice cream. This land of very inexpensive hand-crafted trinkets. I want to take my husband through the halls of Cebu Eastern College to see everything my grandpa touched.