Chung-Ying-LiThis Side of Paradise – An Immigrant’s StoryThis is a life well-lived, perfectly fine,
Undistinguished to others, content within herself.
For an average person with average talent,
above-average intelligence and education –
And a bit of hard-earned luck, this is good enough.

Past was but a series of broad strokes, blurred memories.
Vivid is when coming to America, the turning point.
Legally stamped “immigrant”,
Before that, she was a child, she barely existed.
Vivid is the realization that she entered into a grown-up world, child no more.

Before that, youth. It was blissful, shifty, blinks, blanks.
She remembers pressures to impress others,
Living her mother’s high code of dead Confucian value.
Consumed by standing out in a small pond of toads,
Who hardly knew their ugliness.

Coming to America was a blind leap, meant building a life from scratch –
No more privilege, no name, no mother, no friends, no back up, no nothing special.
America is immense – Open country with open heart.
Eclectic mix of cultures, electric personalities, more of most of everything.
A giant stage of brilliant lives against the tiny stage where she came from.

In America, you are free to be who you are, who you want to be.
You can go any direction you choose, to Minnesota, to California, or to nowhere.
Excited, to be free from the old traditions,
Daunted, to be the fiercest critic of her reluctant independence.
She felt the joy and pangs of a grown-up.

She knew a lot of things then, but little of herself.
Initially she was terribly homesick, “Am I nothing without home?”
But she could also see the shabby sides of her home better, from afar.
She was, sigh, lost – giving up was so easy, building up so hard.
Where to start?

Then the thought, “A woman going through life without learning the simplest lesson that
she has only one life, if she fails to do what she wants with it, no one else would care.”
She had an immediate choice to make:
Hiding in the Chinese communities, living the village life of old China , or
Embracing the new culture surrounding her.

A bit of a ditherer, she took time to figure out what jobs to take.
With freedom comes responsibility. There is no place for idle women in America.
Some jobs she would like to do, but she was too late.
Some jobs she could do, but she lacked depth.
She gambled on a practical but sure craft, which would give her dividend in old age.

There is comfort and familiarity in the old world,
And, there is growth and fear of being slain in the new world.
She quietly measured her success as wife, companion, and weekend writer.
She would write her thank-you note to America by depicting
The lives loved and lost, the dreams pursued and broken, in America

In solitude, she would ask – you work like a devil and earthly monotony drinks you dry.
Were you after things you don’t want, building a life you don’t care a rap about?
Being an optimist, she was never negative for too long.
But there was always something not quite settled in her.
Could it be her youth that she yearned for? It was a pleasant kind of loneliness.

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