Monday morning, May 12, 2008. “Thousands Killed by Huge China Quake,” the CNN headline reads. I’ve just taken a midterm, and I’m ready to clamber into the comfort of down feathers, but the news on my open Firefox browser raises quite the alarm.
Dad in China. Earthquake in China. Bad, bad combo.
I read on. “Nearly all the confirmed deaths were in Sichuan Province, but rescuers were hindered because roads linking it to the provincial capital, Chengdu, were damaged, Xinhua reported.” Sichuan, Chengdu, Wenchuan. Cities and provinces and names with too many vowels and ch-sounds, whose pronunciation I am unsure of despite having spent 12 years of Saturday mornings in a Chinese school classroom.
I open Google Maps and furiously type in “Wenchuan, China.” It directs me to an Environmental Protection Agency and various other useless landmarks around the U.S. Why does technology fail when you need it the most?
In another window, I carefully consider a detailed map, coming to the realization that I have absolutely no idea where in China my dad lives. He is but one face among the 1,300,000,000 in the world’s third largest country. My eyes scan over the black letters, hopeful for the slightest recognition. Nope, nothing. No city names ring a bell. I search through my Gmail archives for clues, for brief mentions that were forgotten on my part. Local landmarks? Company name? Nearby relatives?
Nope, nothing. I have never asked. So he has never told.
My mom is mid-flight to Taiwan at the moment and therefore unavailable to relieve me of my pressing anxieties. I check Skype. Even though he’s offline, I “Start Chat” with YC and send a desperate “HELLOOOOOOO?”
Frustrated, I labor excruciatingly through the contacts in my lagging cell phone before reaching “Dad.” Almost certain it won’t work, I thumb the “send” button, awaiting the anticipated: the always-apologetic “We’re sorry… the number you have dialed… ” Like threading a needle in the dark: it’s not happening. I don’t know how to dial long-distance from my phone. I’ve never had a reason to.
I sit at my desk, defeated. I am in fact a horrible daughter who has no means of reaching her father in times of crises.
This would be an okay revelation to have. You know, if this weren’t a time of crisis.
September 21, 1999. In his humble Taipei bedroom, the force of the 7.6-magnitude quake tossed him across the room. Easily, he’d told me, like croutons in a salad. I was 11 at the time. He lived in Asia then, too. He was lucky then.
Would he be lucky now?
As my imagination gets the better of me, I conjure up scenarios of collapsed buildings and dirt-smeared limbs jutting out of masses of rubble.
I open up the last conversations we had on Skype chat. They are mostly comprised of a string of requests and favors on my part, veiled beneath the thin disguise of friendly conversation.
Can you translate this thing for me for my Chinese homework?
When will there be direct flights between China and Taiwan so my friend can visit me this September when she’s studying abroad in Shanghai?
Can your old coworker get me a discount on a Macbook?
Excluding that, our sporadic, twice-a-month-at-best chat history is littered with inconclusive exchanges of my single-word responses and evident indifference.
how are you/
How was your spring break last week?
Yesterday is the Tomb Sweeping Days in Taiwan and China.It is a holiday!
did you go… sweep tombs?
I usually accompanied with grandpa to do tomb sweeping at this day. But I was absent this year.
oh i see
It is a good tradition for Eastern culture
For example, I bet you guys (Mark and you) don’t know where our ancestors came from!
Hello! are you still there?
Any thing exciting lately?
i have a test today
OK! may be talk to you next time!
?????? “?? core team.ppt” ????????
I mistakenly sent a power point file to you!
its okay haha
do we have any plans for memorial day weekend?
When will be it?
the weekend you and mom will be home
My schedule in BY aREA IS FROM 5/21 TO 5/28!
aRE YOU SAYING 5/24?
im there 5/22-5/24
I don’t know! Did not plan for it before! Any suggetion?
I’d left him hanging, as always. I had only asked about Memorial Day because I’d been thinking about missing our rare family bonding time to go to a rave on Saturday night, of all things. If all is lost, this is what I have to show for myself. “im there 5/22-5/24”: terrible last words. All he wanted was “any suggetion” and I couldn’t even give him that much. Very irrationally, I go through the motions in my head, growing increasingly paranoid.
If I were the type to wring my hands and pace nervously around the room, now would be my cue. Instead, I head to the kitchen, grabbing a spoon and my roommate’s jar of Skippy crunchy peanut butter. This is no time for low-fat cottage cheese.
I have moped, cleaned, conquered half the jar of nutty goodness, and rearranged my earring collection according to size and color by the time a response pops up.
are you okaY?
Hello! Teresa, I am fine! Thanks for asking! Mark also called me in 4:30am here. The epicenter is around 2,500 km away from here!
Relief washes ashore. Half of me had known he had to be in the more eastern, more urban areas that went unscathed. Still, never before had I derived such gratefulness from his overuse of exclamation points.
Nearly 10,000 dead now. But mine, my one of 1,300,000,000: He is alive.
Sometimes we need reminders. Sometimes they are small: stilted conversations and one too many missed calls. Other times, they are of the 7.9-magnitude variety, and they shake you to the core.
They remind you to start building again, from ground up.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Teresa is now an undergraduate Communication major at UC San Diego. A first-generation Taiwanese-American, she crushed any hope that her parents had for a doctor/lawyer daughter early on. She writes, blogs, and spends altogether too much time on the internet. Read more from her at www.teresawu.wordpress.com.