Sunday, February 23, 2014

From TING AND I, Chapter 2, "Apart to Start: 7883 Miles Apart"

Although I was born first, fourteen months earlier, as I like to remind her, I’ll start with Tina’s entry into the world. She would insist that I go first, but I often tell her, “We can’t both go last.”

Her nurses and I have marveled at Tina’s inner strength, her tenacity and her good cheer despite her paralysis and dependence on a ventilator and gastric tube feeding. Her early childhood provides some clues to that strength, suggesting cultural, familial, and genetic contributions.

Kunming, China

Su Ting-Ting was born April 3, 1944, in Kunming, a medium-sized city in southwestern China. The second child and second daughter of Mrs. S. T. C. and Dr. G. J. Su, she began life during the Second World War. Her father, having earned a Sc.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was running a factory that manufactured gasohol motor fuel. Her mother had trained as a chemist, but was concentrating on raising her elder daughter, Irene, who was then recovering from typhoid fever, and caring for her newborn little girl, Ting-Ting. Times were difficult in that overcrowded city during the war. “May you live in interesting times” is said to be a Chinese curse. These were interesting times. This family was equal to the challenge.

G. J. (Gouq-Jen) Su

Tina’s father had earned his M.I.T. doctorate by working feverishly during the few years initially thought sufficient only for obtaining his master’s degree there. He had won a national scholarship for studying in the U.S. that was awarded to a select few. He was eager to finish up, not only because of his limited finances, but also because his wife-to-be, S.T. Chiao (now more commonly spelled Qiao), awaited his return.

Once Dr. Su returned from America, the two were married. Mrs. Su left the security of her wealthy family for a life of considerably less luxury and, as it would turn out, less security as well. During the Kunming years, her younger daughter Irene was told, Mrs. Su would commandeer her husband’s pay, saving some of it in gold bullion, a prudent policy that shielded the family from the terrible inflation (roughly 200 percent per year) of Chinese currency in this period. Luckily, some of Dr. Su’s wages were being set aside for him in America, as he was assisting China’s U.S. allies.

S. T. C. Su
Mrs. Su, born Chiao Shou-Tsung, was the third of six children born into the highly successful, very wealthy Chiao merchant family. The family compound, expropriated by the Communists after their 1949 victory over the Nationalists, is now a national museum known as the Qiao Family Compound, with some 300-plus rooms, 14 courtyards and the lavishly decorative architecture that such wealth can provide. Chiao Shou-Tsung was highly intelligent and highly independent, with a practical side and an artistic talent evident from the elegant watercolors that now grace the homes of her descendants. She had met her future husband when she was a student—and he an instructor—at Tsing Hua, China’s pre-eminent university, analogous to America’s M.I.T.

Mrs. Su showed an independence of mind at a very early age. About five, she tested the superstition that it was unlucky to wash one’s feet on New Year’s Eve by deliberately washing her feet that evening, then waiting on the front steps to see if anything bad happened. From then on, we are told, she had a healthy skepticism about much that was being instilled in her by the culture in which she was immersed. Certainly leaving her wealthy family to marry “beneath her station” and then moving to America shortly after the war showed that independent streak. On the other hand, in Rochester she was the one to mow the lawn, while Dr. Su sipped tea in their kitchen. Independence went only so far.



In the autumn of 1946, the family flew into Calcutta, there to board a ship for a vacation, and perhaps relocation, in America. Tina—then the year-and-a-half-old “Ting-Ting”—reports that she “learned to walk on the ship.” Irene, four years older, found her own diversions. The family visited Washington, DC, and then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where Dr. Su worked briefly for Seagram distilleries. In 1947, he joined the faculty of the University of Rochester, teaching chemical engineering. Eugene Su, third child, first son, and five years younger than Tina, was born in Rochester. Over the years, Dr. Su rose through the academic ranks, becoming a full professor, and retiring in 1974 as a professor emeritus, having supervised 33 masters and 14 doctoral students. A Su Scholarship Fund and Su Distinguished Lectureship series have been established in his honor.

Tina Han Su

A few years after their arrival in Rochester, the Su family became naturalized U.S. citizens. The name on Tina’s certificate reads “Tina Han Su,” as it does on her Cornell A.B. and her Harvard M.A. diplomas, both obtained with distinction. “Han”? The name means “reserved,” in the sense of quiet and contemplative. She was not given that name at birth, being simply “Ting-Ting.” It was chosen much later, to convey a truth about her. She was—and remains—thoughtful, considerate, deliberate, taking her words and yours quite literally. When she knows you are joking, she laughs easily and enthusiastically, but it is not her first inclination.

“Han” (not meaning “reserved”) is also the name given to China’s dominant ethnic group, formerly heavily represented among the country’s elite. Mrs. Su was from that stock. Dr. Su less clearly so. Those of Han ancestry have a barely concealed pride in it.

At home, she was “Ting.” I use this name when I want to emphasize my love for her, as in “my dearest Ting.” She signed many letters to me with it. She’s an American woman with a Chinese flavor. A touch of ginger perhaps?


In one of the tributes at the end of this book, Nancy Meisenzahl sheds light on the Tina of their high school years, as well as on the period following their graduation. Here is an excerpt:

Tina excelled in all classes, and I did not—so we saw less of each other during our high school years. Fortunately, we have kept our contact with each other. We wrote many letters, and heard each other’s ‘news’ of our lives. Tina went on to college at Cornell University ... I went to work at Rochester Gas and Electric.
While Tina was at Cornell, she mentioned a wonderful friend she had. This young man’s name was Doug Cooper. Tina had expressed concern because he was not of Chinese descent and her parents probably would not approve of her choice.... I cannot remember all the particulars surrounding this relationship, but I do remember Tina’s being horribly saddened to have to leave Doug and continue on with her life.

Classmate Mary Kay Solera offers this portrait of Tina in high school:

Entering in January was very difficult [for me], as students had their “clicks” and groups and had been together since grade school. I have to say that Tina was the first person to actually talk with me….she was friendly, beautiful, smart, well rounded, and she made me feel welcome. As the semester continued, we had a few classes together where we got to know each other better. She was so interesting, and we found we had many things in common. Tina had a depth and value to the discussions we had and the way she did things. She wasn’t your typical teen talking about frivolous, trivial things, but rather a strong, cultured individual. She was much wiser and more mature than the majority of the class. I truly enjoy and appreciate this about her. We enjoyed some serious debates over a variety of topics. I knew Tina was going to succeed in whatever she decided to do.

Tina was school newspaper editor, National Honor Society member, valedictorian, class president, accomplished pianist, a lovely, quiet, kind, thoughtful young woman.

Tina and Irene, and possibly Eugene, often felt like outsiders, coming from one of the very few Chinese American families in the Rochester, NY, area at that time. But in contrast to some members of other minority groups, they did not feel themselves to be in any way inferior to the Caucasian majority. If anything, there was a sense of innate superiority that softened the impact of any slights done to them because of their Asian ancestry.

In reading Elaine Tashiro Gerbert’s recollections of Tina (see “Tributes,” at the end of the book), I’m struck by the difference in their experience or in their responses to their experience. Elaine was highly aware of anti-Japanese or anti-Asian feeling around her. Tina was not. Some people may have distinguished between Elaine’s Japanese and Tina’s Chinese ancestry, leading to some disparity in treatment. Both women were very smart and very pretty. That’s not the difference. Tina had been high school valedictorian, something she earned, and high school president, something her peers bestowed on her. At Cornell, she was invited to join all of the sororities she had “rushed” (visited), another indication of the favorable response she received from non-Asians at school. As a pair, she and I received some stares, but no hostile act ever, and we were accorded genuine hospitality at “our” fraternity, Phi Epsilon Pi. Some of the credit for differences in treatment and for differences in perception about that treatment must go to Tina’s personality. She radiated a quiet, good-natured confidence in herself and in others.


The year I graduated from high school, 1960, the student in New York State with the highest New York Regents Scholarship test results was Steven Chinn of Middletown, almost certainly Asian American. When he decided to go to college outside of New York State, I became eligible for the Regents scholarship to Cornell University that he had forfeited. Such scholarships were awarded to New York State students who scored exceptionally well on special exams given to all high school seniors, but the funds had to be used in-state. I note that today, in a competitive exam recently given in New York City, Asian Americans still excel. Half the Asian American students reached the highest level, a quarter of the whites, and roughly an eighth of the blacks and Hispanics.

I recall results of intelligence testing done in Japan: their student population was roughly a standard deviation above a European student population on a corresponding test. This means that 84 percent of them were at or above the 50th percentile for those of European ancestry. Nature or nurture? Probably some of both.

Until the post-World War II era, the Chinese most Americans came in contact with, if any, were generally from the laboring classes, often poorly educated and from the southern provinces. Unless they were well-spoken, they were likely assumed to be relatively unintelligent. These days, as more than one Chinese American I know has noted, the assumption is that if you are Asian, you are probably smarter than average.

It is no surprise that the Su children—having highly educated parents, and being themselves smart, attractive, talented—handled what discrimination they experienced as though they were above it.

Irene was admitted to all five top-caliber colleges to which she applied, choosing to go to Cornell to help save family funds for the subsequent schooling of Tina and Gene. (The Cornell option was less expensive because Irene received a New York State Regents Scholarship, applicable only to in-state schools, as well as a tuition waiver through an exchange program with the University of Rochester, where Dr. Su was on the faculty.)


Eventually, Irene became a dentist and, after that, an orthodontist.

Tina was accepted at almost every one of the top schools to which she applied, choosing Cornell partly on financial grounds, too. She had been class president her senior year, indicating that any negative feelings about her race that may have existed were overwhelmed by general approval of her personal characteristics and her achievements.

Eugene attended a private high school and went on to Brown University and medical school. He eventually became a rheumatologist.

Talent, parental example and encouragement, personal strength –all played roles in the Su children’s successful transitions to adulthood.


“Pride precedes the fall,” the Bible warns us.

And pride in one’s ancestry can slide into ethnocentrism, especially among new arrivals to this country.

To be politically correct, we are very careful not to imply that one group is better or worse than another. The groups themselves are often allowed or encouraged to exhibit pride—be it black pride, Chicano pride, or gay pride. Don’t try to exhibit WASP pride, however. Pride can become a problem, despite its utility in preserving self-esteem. Tina’s family’s pride in being of Chinese ancestry insulated them from accusations of inferiority, but it obviously prevented them from welcoming her marriage to me when we were of college age.

In the spring of 1964, Tina’s parents visited my family in Rosendale, New York. Everyone was cordial, proper, nice. But both sets of parents were not eager for this relationship to progress to marriage. My parents emphasized to me the added problems for any children we might have, and thus also for the parents, of an interracial union. Tina’s parents indicated that she would be better off finding a nice Chinese boy. Both sets of parents held views that were not quite racist, yet both sets frowned on the pairing.

No doubt, similarity in background helps marriages succeed. Opposites may attract, but misunderstandings may more easily arise. “Stick to your own kind” has its rationale. But “kind” is hard to define. I jokingly say that a “mixed marriage” is one between a man and a woman, given the different ways each gender tends to approach life.

Recent statistics show that today about half of Asian Americans marry Caucasians. Tina’s second marriage was to one (me). Gene’s marriage was to one (Christy). Irene’s second marriage was to one (Bob). Irene’s elder daughter, Stephanie, married one (John). Irene’s ex-husband (Hing) married one (Therese). There’s a pattern there, although some of it may be simple statistics: with a few As and a lot of Cs you’ll get, if picking pairs merely at random, very few AA pairs, more AC pairs and mostly CCs. Minority parents (such as Asians or Jews in America) often fear that the AC pairs will no longer carry on the virtues and traditions that their parents prize.

The results of parental pressure? Limiting the options available to their children, or potential estrangement when children choose to go against parental advice.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Snipe Hunt," A #Middlegrade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Although there is such a bird as a snipe, the “snipe hunt” is a practical joke played on new members of a group, such as new campers. The newbies are sent out with bags to capture the “snipe,” which is driven toward them by the older kids, who make noises to frighten the animal. It is best played in the woods at night, if safe. When the new kids return without a snipe, left “holding the bags,” those in the know have a good laugh and explain the joke.

In July, after finishing fourth grade, Tim and his best friend, Tom, got to go to scout camp for two weeks. A few days after they arrived, they and several other new campers were chosen as snipe hunters, with other, older campers chosen to make noises to drive the snipe toward these hunters.

“What does a snipe look like?” Tim asked his counselor.

“A bit like a medium-size dog, but scarier.”

When it got dark, Tim and Tom and fellow hunters set off down a wooded trail, each carrying a large plastic garbage bag.

Other campers got spoons and hit pots and pans and made other noises. The counselors flashed their flashlights, too. Once the hunters were too far to hear them, the chasers laughed out loud among themselves.

When Tim and Tom were getting tired and discouraged, Tim’s flashlight beam hit something. It was a dog, not a snipe, a hunting dog, a Beagle, caught by its collar on the wire of a barbed-wire fence.

The boys got the dog calmed down and were able to get it free from the fence. They twisted their garbage bag to make a kind of rope, and put it through the dog’s collar to make a leash. They forgot all about the snipe.

They turned around and headed back toward the camp, toward the sounds that the others were making.

“Hey, everybody, we found something!” Tom yelled.

“Don’t tell me you’ve caught a snipe,” their counselor yelled back.

“Something better. A dog!” Tim replied.

When they returned to the campfire, their counselor explained the snipe hunt joke to them. No one was laughing, though.

That evening, the camp called local veterinarians and found the owner of the missing dog. He had offered a reward for finding it, and he came to the camp and split the reward money between Tim and Tom, who were quite pleased.

When the boys came home from camp, Tim told the story of the snipe hunt to his family. They said he was brave to go after an unknown animal deep in the woods, even if it turned out to be a joke.

Courage can have unexpected rewards. “Sometimes, when you search for one thing, you find something else worth having,” his mother said.

Rick patted Tim on the back, “There is a saying that ‘he who laughs last, laughs best,’ and you and Tom did get the last laugh.”



One of our series of 50 such instructive short stories.




Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Home or Hospice?" Chapter 1 of TING AND I: A Memoir....


Home or hospice? Fight to live or try to accept death gracefully?

That was the choice the doctors gave my wife, Tina, as they prepared to discharge her from the Critical Care Unit (CCU) of the local hospital. She had nearly died of aspiration pneumonia, the result of an exacerbation of her multiple sclerosis (MS). Her hundred-day battle had ended in a partial victory: she was alive, but now quadriplegic, ventilator-dependent, fed through a tube penetrating her stomach. The hospital that had saved her life was now a threat, as she started to pick up infections from the other patients.

When she had been brought by the emergency crew to the hospital in late February 2004, Tina had told them she did not want invasive treatments. She was scared and disoriented. I got there within a half hour and countermanded her instructions. I had her power of attorney; multiple sclerosis had made her unclear of mind at times, though often she showed the intellect that had propelled her through Cornell and Harvard and onto the editorial staff of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This was a dangerous time for fuzzy thinking.

After she spent a week in an induced coma and another week or two of intensive care, she and I talked about whether I had been right to insist that she receive heroic efforts to save her life. She was glad I did. Tina’s choice was to live, especially for her sons, for me, for others she cared about, and for herself.

A very frustrating period during her hospitalization was when Tina could not speak because she was intubated—a breathing tube had been inserted into her mouth and down her throat. She could not move much more than her eyelids. To communicate, we used a whiteboard to write a list of the most important queries we had and pointed to them sequentially, asking yes-or-no questions. If that did not work, we pointed out letters in the alphabet. One blink meant “yes.” Two blinks were “no.” Very slow going. If she was in pain, she was to make a clicking sound with her tongue. Fortunately, she could hear our reassuring words, especially, “I love you.” She had retained the sense of touch throughout her body. She could see and think. Later, she regained her speech with a tracheostomy and some training.

Our first nurse, Terry Bush, who spent mornings with Tina in the hospital as our watchful eye and liaison, writes

Tina was lying in a hospital bed with pneumonia. Doug spent day and night by her bedside, hoping the doctors’ predictions were incorrect. Not wanting to leave Tina alone, but needing his own rest, Doug asked if I minded changing my position as home health aide to Tina’s private assistant in her hospital room. Although this was closer to nursing than I had been wanting, I already cared too deeply for this special lady to walk away.
I don’t recall the medical details, but I do remember the tears in our eyes as Doug and I watched Tina’s health worsen day by day. She was not expected to live through the night several times. But God had other plans.

Several times the doctors approached me about signing a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. I refused. Tina had already been bedridden with MS for nearly a decade; we knew that she felt her life was valuable to herself and others, even though her “quality of life” was not optimal.

During her long stay in the hospital, she won the friendship and admiration of many of her nurses, who appreciated her cheerful nature and her fighting spirit. Many years before, in other contexts, her loving father had encouraged her to “be a brave soldier,” and indeed she was. Her attitude in the CCU went from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” to “I am going to survive.”

Terry Bush continues:

After weeks of hopes and disappointments, Tina returned home, dependent on her ventilator for every breath of life. More nurses were hired, and round-the-clock care had begun. Doug was not a nurse, by license, but he was honored and respected as head nurse by all of us. Tina was very fragile when she first came home. Her needs were many –ventilator-dependent, unable to speak, tube-fed, unable to eat or drink by mouth; needing physical therapy to keep her joints pliable, causing pain no matter how gently it was done and medication being given on schedule day and night, interrupting the little sleep she was able to find amidst all the new noises and activity in her room.
While her body remained fragile, Tina’s spirit grew strong. (Her complaining consisted of a frown on her face.) She withstood the changes in her health condition with the attention she received from the nurses, each one caring for her as a friend as well as a patient.

She’s been home for seven years since then. Through my IBM retirees’ medical benefits, we have had round-the-clock nursing, first through an agency and then from nurses we have obtained on our own. Most have been with us for years, as Tina is a cooperative and cheerful patient, always appreciative of the care she receives. Here, “TLC” is “Tina-Loving Care.”

There have been some scary times, including several bouts of pneumonia, and many trips to the doctor in our specially equipped van. There have also been lovely times. We say “Every day is a blessing.” Every day is Valentine’s Day.

Each morning we sing together a little song, which–on a Wednesday–would go,

Happy Wednesday to you,

Happy Wednesday to you,

Happy Wednesday, dear (Doug or Tina),

Happy Wednesday to you.

And many more!

Tina still cares about her friends, her family, her nurses; she keeps up with the news, and relishes the documentary and music channels on TV. She chats on the phone, spends an hour or two out of bed in her wheelchair daily, and provides an inspiration to those who know her. She is our heroine.

Recently, I returned to the Protestant faith of my youth. No longer an agnostic, I believe in the miracle of creation and in Christ’s resurrection and in His message. Now that Tina and I both are Christians, we believe death need not separate us. The bracelet charm I bought her for our 25th wedding anniversary reads, “Together Forever.”

Home or hospice? Home!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Loose Lips Sink Ships." A #YA Short Story


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Rick, who are you taking to the Junior Prom?” Tess asked her older brother.

“Fran Donatelli. You’ve met her. We’ve gone to the movies a few times, and I like her a lot.”

“Are you two serious about each other?”

“Not very…yet…but who knows what will happen in the future?”

Fran was Rick’s classmate, smart, rather pretty, not particularly popular, perhaps because she was a bit of a book-worm, not surprising for a doctor’s daughter. Her family had moved into town earlier that year, and she had not made many friends, but Rick liked her. She was good to talk with and appreciated his sense of humor. She seemed pleased to have been invited to the Prom by him. It did not seem likely that someone else would be asking her.

Rick bought the prom tickets early, spending much of the money he had earned from his part-time job. The tickets were not cheap, and he would be renting a tuxedo and would be buying Fran a corsage. He knew that Fran would likely be spending a lot of money on a fancy dress especially for this dance, although, being a doctor‘s daughter, it would probably be easier for her to come up with the money than it was for Rick.

A couple of weeks before the Prom, Rick learned that Fran had told a friend of hers that she would have preferred to go to the Prom with another classmate, a friend of Rick’s, Brian Mullins, a particularly good-looking guy, a popular athlete. When Rick heard this, it hurt.

A day or two after learning this, Rick called Fran and asked her if she had said what he had heard that she had said: that she would have preferred to go to the Prom with Brian. She was honest and admitted that she had said it, and Rick replied, “Well, I’m not taking you, so you are free to go with Brian, if he asks you.”

It wasn’t an easy decision for Rick, as he did not like to let anyone down. He did not want to spend the evening and a lot of money on someone who would rather be there with someone else. He still had those tickets, though. He discussed it with Jeanne, the girlfriend of one of his buddies, Billy, a guy who was away in the Navy. Rick and Jeanne had always been good friends, but just friends. She would not be going to the Prom because Billy was now overseas. They agreed to go to the Prom together, which was fine with Billy. They had a great time.

Brian never did ask Fran to the Prom, preferring to go with another girl, so Fran was stuck at home that night.

Rick’s parents were glad that he did not let Fran treat him with open disrespect. She should have not accepted the date or she should have kept quiet about wanting to go with another guy.

“Sometimes, ‘silence is golden,’” Rick’s mother commented.

Mr. Williams added, “You know, Rick, during World War II, there was an expression that was widely used, ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ It meant that information like the sailing dates and routes of troop ships and supply ships should not be talked about, for fear that enemy agents would use the information to aid the Germans or the Japanese we were fighting against in attacking our ships.”

“Well, Dad, her loose lips sank Fran’s Prom.”


One of our series of fifty instructive short stories for young people.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Put Your Faith in Love?"

What do love and faith have to do with career? Read on.

“Don’t put your faith in love, my boy, my father said to me….I fear you’ll find that love is like the lovely lemon tree.” So began a Harry Belafonte song, “Lemon Tree.” The refrain went, “Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”

To love is to lose?

IBM and I sort of fell in love in June of 1964, shortly after I graduated with a B.A. in physics from Cornell University and three days before I was scheduled to enlist in the U.S. Army to be sent to their renowned language school in Monterrey, California, to continue my training in the Chinese language and become part of the Army Security Agency.

My parents called my attention to an ad IBM had recently placed in our local paper. They were looking for scientists and engineers for their Kingston, NY, location, a half-dozen miles from our home. I went, interviewed, and received an offer by the time I had driven home. I worked there six months, with nice, intelligent co-workers, seeking to improve IBM products through the maintenance of standards, like our National Bureau of Standards.

Then, I was drafted. The U.S. Army and I did not fall in love, but we made it through two years together. I studied at Penn State and Harvard, worked outside Boston, taught at Harvard, got divorced, then re-united with my college sweetheart, Tina Su, and looked for a job.


Read the rest of the story at

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Running Up the Score," A #Middlegrade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Hi, Tess, how was your basketball game?” Her brother Rick asked.


“Who won?”

“We did, 32-15,”

“Wow! You really creamed them.”

“I guess.”

“What’s the matter?” Rick thought she should be happier about the win. Tess was one of the best players on her middle-school team, and they had played a team from a rival town.

“I only played about half the game.”

“Were you injured?”

“No. The coach let the substitutes play a lot. We were way ahead.”

“That’s too bad for you, but good for the subs. It showed mercy on the other team, too. They seem to have been losing badly. The score would have been much worse if the first-string played the whole game.”

“I know, Rick, but I like to play, and it seems we are punished for being too good.”

“Understood, but the subs are almost as good, and they come to practices just like you ‘stars,’ and maybe the subs help you get better by practicing against them.”


“I sympathize with the subs, “ Rick added, “ because I was one for my whole high school basketball career. Got to play only when we were way ahead or way behind. I understood why, but I wished it were different.”

“Coach said she does not like to run up the score on our opponents.”

“She means you should do enough to be sure to win, but not so much as to humiliate your opponents. If you’ve been on losing teams, and I have, you know that a lop-sided score, even if gotten fairly, is a smack in the face. It may make you practice harder or it may just discourage you. If you haven’t got the talent, practice may only help a bit.”

“Does that mean I shouldn’t try to get A’s in all my courses because the other kids don’t?”

“No. Do your best. Your career may depend on it. Anyway, your grades are really none of the other kids’ business. We’re happy to see you ‘run up the score’ in all your courses!”

And so she did.


One of fifty short stores we wrote, illustrating principles with which we agree.