LOVE IN A SMALL TOWN by Dr. Patrick H. Lau

“A stranger you were once. Then, with a gentle look you took my hand. As our lives engaged, you lit my life and I held both your hands. Now those decades have passed, our souls have indeed become one. How fortunate we are that we have found the love so true that everyone dreams about.”   ~Laura Merodio

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I take the occasion to reflect on some comical aspects of our wonderful marriage of thirty-four years. 有緣千里能相會.  Literally, it means that fate brings people together no matter how far apart they are. Despite coming from Hong Kong, eight thousand miles away, I met my beloved wife, Peggy, in a small town in Michigan, where I once conducted a family medicine practice. She is a German-Hungarian descendant, born and raised in a Catholic family; and I was born and brought up in Hong Kong in a traditional Chinese family.  There are irrefutably immense differences between us pertaining to upbringing, cultural and social backgrounds, heritages, philosophies, values, temperament and ideologies. Nonetheless, we fell in love albeit all our dissimilarities. For listening to my thoughts, sharing my dreams and being my soul mate, for filling my life with happiness and loving me till the end of time, I said “I do.”

After we tied the knot, I took my young and beautiful bride back to Hong Kong to meet my family. In complying with the Chinese traditional rites, we had to offer tea to my parents. In order to impress them, I taught Peggy how to address my father and mother in Cantonese: ‘Lo Yeh 老爺’ and ‘Lai Lai 奶奶’.  Regrettably, due to her American accent, while serving them tea, Peggy addressed my father ‘Lo Yay 老野’, insulting words for elderly, somewhat equivalent to ‘old fart’.  I acknowledge that it was my fault.

While in Hong Kong, Peggy encountered a cultural shock, specifically food culture. We attended my father’s birthday party serving several tables of banquet feast in a reputable Chinese restaurant. The first course was a roast suckling pig. Peggy felt utterly uneasy to look at the reddish piglet, let alone consuming its crispy skin and succulent meat.  Next, a Cantonese fried whole chicken including its head with the eyelids partially open, feet and tail was served. She instantaneously lost her appetite again.

Later, Peggy was confronted with a large steam whole fish with its head, tail, fins and life-like eye balls intact.  Abalones in oyster sauce, hot and spicy whole prawns with large heads, braised sea cucumbers and shark-fin soup appeared and sounded unpalatable to her. The duck feet dish was undoubtedly the last straw. The sumptuous, scrumptious Chinese cuisine was too overwhelming for my better half, an American small town girl. She finally ate a small bowl of Yang Chow fried rice. I speculate that it was her most unforgettable birthday celebration. Perhaps in that ‘enchanted’ evening, she might think we were all barbarians. At the end of the trip, I gained five pounds, while she lost eight.

Over the years, Peggy has learned to love Chinese foods. During my residency and fellowship training, we dined in Chinatown every weekend except when I was on call at the hospital. In fact, she cooks Chinese meals following the recipes from Martin Yan’s cookbooks. She even prepared Peking duck a few times; it turned out very successful every single time. Her specialty dishes are shrimp in lobster sauce and pan fried Cantonese noodle with shrimp. Nevertheless, she still feels squeamish watching me eat chicken and pig feet. Parenthetically, she is an excellent cook for American dishes; our holidays’ favorite is prime rib.

When we were young, dining at American restaurants, twice the waitresses asked us if we would like separate checks. Peggy was annoyed yet she maintained her composure and calmly said, “One check please and give it to my husband.” The gratuities were disappointing for the particular servers. Actually, Peggy is a generous tipper. She put herself through college by taking a part-time job as a waitress. She understands that waiting on tables is very hard work. Incidentally, she went back to college when our sons were teenagers and acquired a master degree in management information system (her undergraduate degrees are a B.S. in computer science and a B.B.A.). She retired from the position of computer lab manager, school of nursing at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Sometimes when Peggy took me to a clinic or hospital for an outpatient procedure, the nurses mistook her as my friend who gave me a ride. Perhaps we look so different like beauty and the beast. Occasionally, while patronizing Chinese restaurants, the waiters handed me a pair of chop sticks, and knife and fork to Peggy. Every time, she would ask for a pair of chop sticks and dexterously used them.

After so many years together, oftentimes we have similar thoughts almost simultaneously; we are on the same page.  We are two souls with but a single thought 心有靈犀一點通   I have been counting my blessings every day; because the best thing that ever happened to my entire life is my marriage to Peggy. She has been an extremely loving and caring wife and an excellent mother as well. Kindness is her never-ageing beauty. Diligence is her ever replenished wealth. Humility is her never degraded wisdom. She, indeed, symbolizes truth, kindness and beauty 真, 善, 美.

在天願作比翼鳥,在地願為連理枝. 天長地久有時盡,此愛綿綿無絕期.

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