Tuesday, November 11, 2008
An old Soldier and his wooden bench
The history making US election is finally over and we have a new President-elect Barack Obama. He supports a rapid military withdrawal from Iraq regardless of it's outcome which brings me to ponder about my grandpa's war stories of the past. Grandpa was a proud man and he passed away at the age of 92 just a few years back. I have never served in the military. The idea is fairly laughable since I have virtually no self-discipline and a more-than-healthy questioning of authority. The roots of my appreciation for the military, however, runs deep. My grandfather was a military man himself and his stories have always inspired me to appreciate those who came before me, willingly sacrifice themselves for future generations. I traveled to Taiwan quite often when I was growing up and among one of the most memorable trips was a trip I took with my sister to visit my grandparents in Taipei.
A rooster crows urgently in the distance. I turn over in my bed, immediately feeling the effects of jet lag. A few hours earlier on this summer morning, I had just arrived to visit my grandpa in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. This island off the coast of China in Southeast Asia is nearly half a world away. My sister shook me into consciousness with a reference to hot yummy porridge and something about a climb with Yeh Yeh(Grandpa) at Tiger's Head Mountain in Sungshan Nature Reserve on the southern edge of the city.
"Wake up! Wake up! We're going to climb the mountain with Yeh Yeh (my then 72 year old grandfather)."
I looked at the clock and sighed. It is too early. Who would want to go mountain climbing at five in the morning? I wonder and then remember this is Asia, where it's common for the old to exercise early in order to avoid the heat of the day. Upon arriving at the foothills of the mountain, Grandpa tooks us to an open air little street vendor restaurant where we had our yummy breakfast. It was a traditional breakfast where dou jiang and tasty "you tiao" (pronounced YO TEE-YAU) foot-long pieces of dough deep fried until it's dark brown is served. One of the great pleasures of eating breakfast here is to get a hot bowl of soybean milk on a cold crisp almost winter like morning. Allow the steam from the soybean milk to bathe your face as you slurp up the drink and dunk thick slices of sponge cake into the dou jiang. Ahhh...heaven. We sat giggling on wooden benches enjoying fresh mountain air as we sipped up our hot dou jiang. Grandpa normally began his stories talking about these wooden benches that we were all sitting on. He said back then when he was little, these wooden benches were everywhere. They had them in theatres, community events, churches and even in war room command posts.
After breakfast he led us to begin our ascending to the top. The journey will last about 3 hours and besides the beautiful scenery and fresh mountain air, we got to enjoy a little history lesson as well. All his stories were about wars, his escape from China to Taiwan and how his career later took him to many places in the world. Years later, I sat idly on similar benches my grandfather and I would visit on our many long climbs. It is on benches that he would tell me stories, of his life, as well as others he met along the way. Of good times and bad and of loss and happiness.
Grandpa has moved on to a different place as I sat on these benches many years later. I revisit the mountain where my grandpa once took me many times since that early morning day. My grandfather worked hard for many years and traveled to many destinations in the world, but none, I'm sure, similar to the one he has most recently visited. I imagine it to be a place of content for him, a place to relive old memories and seeing old faces. I am sure that he is also comforted by the fact that he must no longer suffered as he did before he moved on.
He, my grandfather, was a master at story telling, which I believe was conjuring up the best in those he met along his journey. I believe this to be true, especially in me, his only grandchild. He believed in me, as if there was no one else to stand behind. On this veteran day and just like those who sacrifice themselves for the future generations, my grandfather did the same for me.
I miss my grandfather, but knows he is sitting on a similar bench, in a different place.