Saturday, February 2, 2013

TING AND I, Patriotism, Gifts, Birthday Girl


Tina loves America. Her mother’s family, almost all of them stuck in China, has seen terrible times. The opportunities here for Tina’s parents, their children and grandchildren have been great, and Tina is appreciative. She’s an American woman, with a Chinese flavor.

She loves the Fourth of July celebration and the songs of patriotism.

She votes at each election, now, though getting there is a challenge. Fortunately, she votes Republican, so I help her get to the polls. I sign in for her and advise her on her selection, but on a rare occasion, we’ll split our votes. She is more traditionalist and I more libertarian. She might vote for a Democrat, if he were Chinese. I won’t.

A former Asian Studies major, and originally a daughter of the Central Kingdom, she follows events there avidly. The closest she’s been to the mainland of China were her nine months with her first set of in-laws, teaching English on Taiwan. Now, she catches nightly news on CCTV, Chinese Cable TV, which originates from Beijing, is done in English, and is not obviously biased or following the Communist Party line. Its interviews tend to be more intelligent than those I see on U.S. TV. More factual, analytical, thoughtful. Some of our Public Broadcasting System’s interviews are comparable, but their biases I spot more readily.

One of her favorite Teddy bears is a jade-green baby bear, Ty, which was made in China. Just like you, I tease. She smiles and agrees.


The handsome Seiko quartz crystal watch I am wearing Tina gave to me 26 years ago, a wedding gift that replaced the less elegant watch I’d had for a decade, given to me by my first wife. The messages were clear: Tina loves me, wants me to have a better watch, wants traces of that other woman removed when possible.

Gifts that are well suited to the recipient are hard to select. Your heart needs to be in the right place and you need to know what the recipient needs, wants, likes, or at least can use. Someone in Tina’s situation, so limited in mobility, cannot use many of the conventional gifts. Much that she could use, she already has. Even so, gifts that miss the mark are welcome when they signal love or affection from the giver.

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and to be loved in return.”
—From Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy,”
--- sung by Nat “King” Cole



It surprises us how well Tina keeps track of the birthdays of friends and family. I’ve got to have them written down to have a hope of remembering most of them.


My sister’s birthday is August 6, the same day of the year we bombed Hiroshima with an atomic bomb. I’m not saying that my sister reminds me of that explosive event, but it is a memorable date. It is not surprising that Tina remembers that one, but she does surprise with some of the others. She likes to keep track of them because she likes to order cards, sometimes gifts, well ahead of time.


In mid-May this year, Tina told me she wanted me to order my sister Diana’s present, a very nice perfume. She knew the birthday was three months away, but she wanted us to be ready. She even plans Christmas presents way ahead, when I’m looking forward to the Fourth of July.


“Birthday girl” reminds me: When I enter the Tingdom while she is being given a bath in bed, I’ll sometimes compliment her on her outfit, her birthday suit. My birthday girl.

Dressed, she is a present wrapped for me.

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