As some of you already know, my father passed away on Tuesday, February 26. Unlike my mother's death, his was not unexpected. Dad's physical health had been in decline since before my mother's death and had done so rather precipitously after his fall at the end of 2006. This was further accelerated after falling a second time, as well as breaking his hip, in late 2007. Of course, if you had asked him, he would have said that he didn't expect to survive into the 21st century, and this from the early 90s, as my mother had told me at the time (and continued to tell me throughout the 90s). I last saw him just after Christmas last year, when he got a chance to see pictures of Tobias playing in the snow.
My father was a survivor, an intellectual who was forced to work more often with his hands than with his mind. He survived the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (the family village is near Harbin). His personal convictions caused him to leave Beijing in early 1949, one step ahead of the Communists, and survived the trek to Taiwan, via Hong Kong and a stint in the Taiwanese Army (a journey which, incidentally took five years off his age). Those same convictions kept him from working as an acupuncturist in the US, as the licensing board was affiliated with Mainland China. Those convictions kept us from re-contacting his family in Beijing for years, and delayed our trip there until 1994, 45 years after he'd left it. But his other convictions, about personal honesty and importance of his children, my brother Eugene and I, led him and us into new lives. His losing a religious debate to a Jesuit at university caused him to convert to Catholicism. His personal disappointment at the Taiwanese government, as well as both our parents' desire to give us children better opportunities than the twin options of rote cramming our way into a place at university or a stint in the Taiwanese Army brought our entire family to the United States. A second exodus for both our parents (my mother was born and raised in Vietnam) and we were all strangers in a strange land.
Embarrassed about his accent, he felt uncomfortable speaking English in front of native speakers, though he could understand them well enough (and he could "read" a person with amazing accuracy). So while my mother could still work at nursing related jobs while trying for her US license, my father ended up working as a stevedore of sorts, loading numbered cages at a food service distribution warehouse, and he would end his working life as cook at a Chinese fast food stand in a mall, six days a week. Those of you who've eaten my father's cooking (for it was my father who was the Chef of the house, mom was always sous-chef if they were both in the kitchen) will find it hard to reconcile the amazing dishes he made at home (often looking just like the pictures in recipe books) with the endless servings of "egg fu young" and "mu shu gai pan" from the food court. (Though I admit that my friends and I at Rice welcomed visits from Dad on Fridays nights, where dozens of egg rolls and a half pan of sweet and sour pork were eagerly wolfed down by always hungry college students.) Unwilling to take advantage of his culinary skills (he and mom attended cooking school with Fu Pei Mei in Taipei, and his technique is the reason I curl my thumb in at the cutting board), we passed up opportunities to run our own restaurants.
Though he curbed his own ambitions, he expected much from Eugene and I. He had little knowledge of Rice University when I first entered, though eventually he'd clearly heard of its reputation from our Chinese friends, and was more than happy to tell people that I attended that "rice pot" school. And of course, Eugene was the one to actually get the first college degree in the family, while I left school and Texas for a journey of my own, which has brought me to my own strange land, thus completing some sort of cosmic, family loop. And if I have any regrets at all, it is that Tobias will not have any direct impressions of his Chinese grandparents, his Yehyeh and Nainai.
As with my mother's passing in 2001, we will not have a full funeral ceremony, but will hold a viewing on March 19th, from 10 AM to 7 PM.
Winford Funeral Home
8514 Tybor Dr
Houston, TX 77074
(Tybor is off Gessner, one block South of Highway 59.)
Eugene and I will be available to visitors at the viewing.
In keeping with Chinese tradition, we will be handing out "red bags"--with candy and a coin inside--at the viewing. We ask that you eat the candy in remembrance of my father's cooking; and spend the coin for pleasure, in memory of the pleasure of my father's company.
We also ask that you refrain from bringing flowers to the viewing or sending them to my parents' home, not for reasons of tradition, but ones of practicality: we simply have no space for them. Cards, however, would be most welcomed, and should be sent to:
The Lee Family
16922 Macleish Drive
Houston, TX 77084
We already have a memorial fund in my mother's name at Katy Hospital. If you are so inclined you can donate time, money or other resources (blood and plasma) to the Memorial Hermann Hospital System either in my mother's name (Chin-Ling Lee) or my father's. For more information about donating, go to:
It was my father's wish to be interred with my mother. Eugene and I have decided that after cremating Dad's remains, we will eventually inter both their ashes with the remains of my maternal grandmother, who is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Los Angeles. This might take place as early as this summer, but we'll give advanced notice once we've gotten things organized.
I will be in California from this coming Thursday, the 13th, to the 23rd (Easter Sunday) and will be in Houston from the 18th to the 20th. You can contact me via my US cell: 650-440-2270, though please be aware that Central European Time is five hours ahead of Eastern and eight hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time, so the ringer might be off depending on when you call.
I hope to see some of you in the Bay Area and others in Houston.