What you need to know
Ten years after arriving in Taiwan, Tsai Ting-jung lost her husband to illness just as her son was born. Looking back, she shares a winding tale of pain and blessing.
Oral account: Tsai Ting-jung (蔡定蓉)
Interviewers: Tsai Kuei-tien (蔡桂恬) & Cheng Chi-han (鄭至涵)
Writer: Cheng Chi-han (鄭至涵)
Time has flown by. It has now been 21 years since I first arrived in Taiwan. Before I came here, I was a high school dropout. My parents’ salaries were unable to pay for me and my more than 20 siblings. As a result, I voluntarily dropped out of school at the age of 17.
To ease my family’s financial burden, I went to work at a local sewing factory owned by Taiwanese businessmen. During that period, busy with work and exhausted after my shifts, I could not learn to cook from my mom, so I didn’t inherit my mom and sister’s culinary skills. The salary I earned from working at the factory managed to help subsidize my family’s expenses, but it was far from enough to completely solve our problems.
When I was 23, I learned that many young girls from my hometown had opted to get married and relocate to Taiwan. They all came to Taiwan under marriage with the help of matchmakers in Taiwan and Vietnam, though I didn’t know why. I finally realized that many Vietnamese girls did this so they could work legally in Taiwan to help their families back home with expenses and financial burdens.
The year I turned 24, a matchmaker approached me. I got to know my husband, who was 10 years older than me, that same year. When I first saw him, I was very shy because I had never seen a boy with such delicate features. My first impression was that he seemed sophisticated, quiet and gentlemanly. I couldn’t help but start falling for him.
Before marriage, my husband would visit Vietnam just to see me, which I found touching. He also showed respect towards my parents. This helped me develop even more feelings for him.
At 25, I married him and relocated to Taiwan. I successfully found a job here and became a true Vietnamese daughter-in-law of Taiwan by obtaining my Taiwan ID card after three years. My husband took very good care of me. I was glad to have met him and his family.
My first job in Taiwan was as a kitchen assistant at The Lalu, a hotel near Sun Moon Lake. There, I met good supervisors and co-workers. They knew I came from Vietnam, so they taught me everything step by step, helping me feel at ease. They weren’t rude to me just because I was a foreign bride.
I would distribute my monthly salary appropriately. I wouldn’t withhold money from my husband’s family just because I had no blood ties to them. A few months after I came to Taiwan, my family at home could begin speaking to me by phone. Their economic situation had gradually improved since I came to Taiwan, news which I was very glad to receive.
Ten years after I married my husband, I finally got pregnant with our child. With the good news, however – I was not sure whether it was because God was so jealous of the good life that I had that He dealt us a fatal blow – came the fact that my husband got terminally ill in the same year. My son didn’t get to meet my husband in time before God took him away.
I was in pain that year. I wanted to die together with him. I tried hard to suppress my own emotions. Although I missed my husband very much, I had to persevere for my son. After all, he was the last gift that my husband left to me. I swore to myself that I would enable my son to have a happier life than any other child.
After giving birth, to provide a better life for him, I chose to quit my job at The Lalu and start working at the Rose House, an English tea restaurant in Taichung. I did this because my salary at The Lalu was fixed, and I could earn more at the Rose House.
While I worked, my husband’s family helped take care of my child, enabling me to work overtime and earn more money for living expenses. During that period, I worked relentlessly. My family had lost the pillar that my husband used to provide, and we still had to purchase many supplies for my son. I didn’t want my child to use bad quality goods, so I worked hard and did my best to give my child the best life he could have.
Nevertheless, the older my son grew, the higher the expenses became. Besides, the work at the Rose House depended on the weather. As I was not able to pay living expenses, I decided to open my own Vietnamese restaurant in Puli.
This idea received support from both my husband’s family and my family back in Vietnam. I opened my restaurant the same year that my son turned one year old. Though I had never cooked for my family in Vietnam, the working experience I had gained at The Lalu – plus my vivid memory of the taste of Vietnamese food – helped me successfully make authentic Vietnamese dishes.
At first, business was not good. As more and more university students came to study in Puli and many new immigrants moved here, however, business started to improve. My customers said my Vietnamese dishes were authentic. I would go to the market before sunrise to hand-pick the freshest ingredients so that my customers could eat happily and with peace of mind.
Above: Chin Jung Vietnamese Cuisine (金蓉越南美食) in Puli, Taiwan.
It has been 10 years since I opened my restaurant. My child is 10 years old and in fourth grade now, studying at the Dacheng Elementary School just across the street from my restaurant.
During the period when he began to learn to speak, my mother-in-law’s health got worse, so I sent him to a babysitter. The babysitter spoke both Mandarin and Taiwanese. Now that he has grown up, knowing I had to manage the restaurant during the day, he asked me whether I could send him to an after-school academy to keep me from being worried. He said this way, I could focus on running the restaurant during the day while he could learn and improve his English. Upon hearing this, I felt he was considerate, and so I granted him his wish.
When I speak to him, I use both Mandarin and Taiwanese. Though my child doesn’t understand Vietnamese at all, I will teach him should he want to learn the language. My child told me he wanted to visit Vietnam over the summer holiday, but I thought he was still too young, and that I would be unable to stay in Vietnam with him for too long because I had to manage the restaurant.
Even though my sister and other relatives could take care of him, I still couldn’t put my mind at rest. If he got a cold, I wouldn’t know. I'll consider letting him go when he begins junior high school.
I would be elated if my child would like to study abroad, especially in Vietnam. I don’t expect him to follow any particular path in life. He has his own ideas. If he wants to study further, that would be fine, and I would respect his decision no matter what. If he is not interested, there would be no use badgering him. I only hope he will live a happy life. Only then can I have peace of mind.
Although I have struggled over the last decade, having to balance managing the restaurant and supporting the family, I have lived a happy life. This was because my husband left me with an excellent gift. Whenever I came across hardships, my negativity would vanish the moment I looked at my child.
I'll continue to stay here and get on with my life. However, if I have time, I'll take my child back to Vietnam on vacation – anything that will help him be the happiest child he can be.
This article is published courtesy of the National Academy of Technology's "Rock Pyramid," a 'Humanity at Taiwan' program by the Ministry of Education. The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article.
This article originally appeared on the Chinese-language ASEAN edition of The News Lens. The original can be found here.
Translator: Lin Ying-jen
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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