Shawshank Redemption: I Hope

“The Shawshank Redemption” is a movie about time, patience, redemption, and most of all, hope. The backbone of the story rests on the wrongful imprisonment of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins): a former investment banker who’s been framed for a crime - the murder of his wife - that he didn’t commit. The story of Shawshank follows Andy as he becomes friends with Red (Morgan Freeman), a lifer, just like him - “ a man who knows how to get things,” whether it be cigarettes, candy, or even a rock pick for an amateur geologist; and a man who’s been inside the walls of Shawshank Prison for a very long time.

But the heart of the story resides in Red’s narrative, and it even bleeds into beautifully orchestrated subplots of supporting prisoner characters, like Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) - a man who couldn’t make it on the “outside.” In fact, the moment Andy and Red’s paths intersect, Red takes the wheel of the story and fulfills the role of narrator, driving us through the psychological terrain of fighting battles with institutionalization and moving from imprisonment to freedom.

The two things I love most about “The Shawshank Redemption,” are, simply put - the beginning and the end.

The beginning is a hauntingly beautiful vignette of the event that serves as a basis for the dramatic premise of the story. It intertwines moments from two parallel narratives: 1) Andy sitting outside of a country club in at night in his car - drunk, and fiddling with a revolver in his lap, and 2) Andy standing on the witness stand at his trial for the murder of his wife and her lover. The conceptualization of constructing two separate blocks of narrative into a single block and glancing back at the footage of murder through flashbacks enriches the trial scene, which is the event that essentially derails Andy’s life and sets him on his path to Shawshank.

Moreover, our mere introduction to the Shawshank penitentiary is given to us through an astounding lens. It’s as if we’re a bird flying over the towering walls of Shawshank - the camera soars and pans around hundreds of inmates crossing the prison grounds, and ominous swells in orchestral strings push us to watch closely during our flight around Shawshank from the outside looking in.

Red’s narrating voice helps ease us into the waters of Shawshank - we see a bus of new prisoners ride in, including Andy, and we watch as the fresh inmate fish disembark from the bus into the sea of prisoners. In fact, Red speaks for all of the prisoners - he allows us to understand the pace and feeling of the passage of time, and he allows us to see Andy the way he sees him. We are convinced to maintain integrity in the idea that Andy will survive his years in prison - not by being violent or kissing butt, but rather by formidably being sure of himself. Andy even influences Red to rise from hopelessness inside the institutionalized walls of Shawshank and to believe in the freedom of hope.

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Shawshank’s story inhabits universal feelings that saturate the human experience - survival, good and evil, individual versus the system, hope. It paints time and the characters wading in it with patient strokes. From its writing to its cinematography, every visual movement or narrative voice feels like punctuation; every element inside the film develops a character, shapes a behavior, or articulates a moment.

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As articulated by Tim Robbins in an Off Camera interview - Shawshank is in a class of its own because of the story it's telling, and because of the way it resolves the way it’s resolved. Shawshank’s ending feels as whole and complete as it does when one envelopes a beautiful letter before sending it off to its recipient. From Andy’s escape, Red making it on the “outside,” and reuniting with Andy at “a place that’s warm with no memory” - the ending is as beautiful as a dream.

Oftentimes, a lot of happy endings are tacked onto films; with Shawshank, it feels that after a long journey of torment and gradual redemption, a happy ending is well-deserved - it is earned. The ending is hopeful, life-affirming, and it feels like a breath of content because of the struggles of many characters on screen to get there. Shawshank’s close encapsulates the human capacity to survive - intellectually, spiritually, and physically.

The ideas is that hope can keep us alive. The reason why the film resonates deeply with people is because it’s a message we don’t often hear in a genuine way on the big screen. It’s not about immediate satisfaction, but about our happiness in the long run.

Whether you’re trapped in your own life in a place you deeply dislike - whether it be within a career, relationship, or so on - Shawshank metaphorically talks to all of those people. It says that there’s a place like Andy and Red’s island - a moment for all of us - that’s achievable. It says that we have to have patience and maintain a clear idea of who we are and what we want. And eventually - hopefully - we’ll achieve what we want, so long as we remember to take our time, redeem ourselves when we fall, and most importantly - hope.

I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

How Tech Giants Think: A Cultural Analysis of Microsoft & IBM

Thanks to my Organizational Communication class this semester, I've learned a lot about the complexity and importance of organizational culture. 

For one of our final projects, we were tasked with writing a cultural analysis of an organization. Our teacher asked us to interview two people from within one single company and apply class concepts to feedback we received about  its organizational culture.   

However, I decided to create my own topic. Instead of interviewing two people from one single company, I thought it would be even more interesting to interview two people, each whom work at a different company, but within a similar industry.

I was lucky enough to have Mary and Josh allow me to interview them about their career experiences working at tech companies. Per their valuable stories and insight, I've learned a lot more about what they do for a living, why they do it, and that people and organizational culture are just as important as technology.


Introduction

Microsoft and IBM are two tech giants that dominate and innovate within the business intelligence market. With a growing world of data and an increasingly competitive market space for cloud businesses, one of the most exciting parts of the modern digital era is observing how tech companies have raced to remain innovative and relevant. While Microsoft and IBM bear differences in perspectives on the tech industry, articulating their organizational cultures will further our understanding of their business productivity over time.

I have explored the effects of Microsoft and IBM’s organizational cultures on their business productivity by collecting insight from two professionals: Mary, a Global Program Manager at Microsoft, and Joe, an Offering Evangelist at IBM. With 20-30 years of experiences in the tech realm, Mary and Josh have shared their respective insight about their Microsoft and IBM experiences. Per Microsoft and IBM’s current and past business performances, along with Mary and Josh's feedback, I will: 1) identify and analyze cultural elements that have led to increased or decreased productivity over time, and 2) project how these elements will influence the companies’ ability to adapt to the future of the tech industry.

Through Their Lens  

Microsoft is a multinational, technology company that develops and implements integrated software and hardware solutions worldwide. With around 120,000 employees in over 100 countries, Microsoft has proved its resilience in responding to changing technologies, market demands, and business opportunities over time; recently, it has shifted towards investing more in cloud productivity services (Ullman).

Elaborating on experiences that led her to Microsoft’s door, Mary outlined a personal narrative that pushed her to pursue work within customer support and privacy programs. As a child of immigrant parents, she noticed they were mistreated on a daily basis, often met with impatience or rudeness. As she grew older, she saw her role to be her parents’ advocate and speak on their behalf. “I took on this ‘justice girl’ complex - my goal: help the underdogs - those who are underrepresented.”

From working in customer support, to managing and developing privacy, online safety, and regulatory compliance policy programs for worldwide services, Mary’s innate values of diversity and supporting the underrepresented have only strengthened over time.

Today, she continues to elaborate on being an advocate for others through her current role: implementing Microsoft’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) through consulting with sales, marketing, and engineering teams. Whether it be speaking on behalf of her parents or a Microsoft user, Mary has dedicated her work to protecting and lending a voice to others - “...to empower people around the world to do more of what is meaningful to them - whatever that may be - personal and/or business-related.” Based on Schein’s Model, Mary’s narrative about being an advocate for others is a cultural indicator of Microsoft’s espoused values of diversity, innovation, and making the customer come first. Having been awarded for building the fully comprehensive privacy program at Microsoft, it is evident that her ethical values align with Microsoft’s online privacy initiatives, resulting in recognition of her contribution to the company’s productivity.

IBM, short for International Business Machines, is the biggest computer company in the world. Over the past century, with 370,000 employees operating in 170 countries, IBM has provided integrated solutions that leverage information technology and knowledge of business processes – one in particular being Watson, an evolving business Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform. In light of IBM’s multifaceted technology services, it is no surprise that Josh’s interdisciplinary background - a blend of business, engineering, and design - led him to pursue a career at IBM. Although he was originally more interested in product design and engineering than he was in computers, Josh stuck with IBM; he found the company’s multifaceted work to be rewarding and desired to take part in its global impact – a “force for positive change for the world.” Over the past 30 years, Josh has worn many hats in many different places. From China, to Germany, to Silicon Valley, to Florida, he has honed his talents in technical support, systems engineering, sales, and product management all over the world – a testament to IBM actualizing his dream of driving positive global change through his career.

Josh's background not only indicates the breadth and depth of IBM’s interdisciplinary services, but also serves as an artifact of IBM’s espoused values of innovating on a global scale. Thus, the cultural consistency between IBM’s espoused values and artifacts increased Josh’s job satisfaction and commitment; his motivation to invest in diverse work and expand IBM’s global reach has contributed to its productivity through bringing products to market worldwide.

Consistency & Change

Microsoft and IBM have constantly had to change to remain relevant and competitive in the market. The remerging questions have always been - “How?” and “When?” In order to summarize their respective companies’ evolving work cultures, Mary and Josh provided vignettes of challenging work dynamics: Mary reflected on the 23 managers she has had in her 18-year career, and Josh discussed the challenge of navigating IBM’s vast resources.

Mary says the best managers “took the time to get to know me, asked me questions, pushed me to do things that may be uncomfortable, but…[expanded] my skill set.” In contrast, her worst managers “didn’t know how to lead… [were] too self-absorbed with their own career...” or were “unwilling to protect the team.” Apart from being rewarded for building the first fully comprehensive privacy program, Mary also recalls seeing others who “left ‘dead bodies’ along the way to get where they are” receive rewards as well. In other words, Mary’s best managers enacted team management, eliciting a high concern for both people and production, whereas her worst managers employed authority-compliance management, expressing low concern for both people and production. Moreover, instances where employees received undeserved recognition seem to be by-products of overly product-focused leadership, a dynamic that has cost Microsoft’s productivity in the tech industry.

For example, Mary’s recollection of how two managers have dealt with change differently reveals that management styles not only permeate throughout work culture, but also affect organizational productivity. Former CEO Steve Ballmer “led with an old school style,” maintaining a “product-focused...arrogant” outlook that assumed “if we build it, they will come.” In this case, by resisting change and prioritizing his own interests over organizational needs, Ballmer’s Theory X management style left Microsoft behind in the mobile phone and tablet industry.

On the other hand, with current CEO Nadella abandoning a “Windows or nothing” philosophy and finding new ways to compete in markets, Microsoft’s shift in management style has deeply impacted its presence within the cloud platform and productivity ecosystems through its: increased implementation of MS Office on iOS, Android, and Chromebook devices; and growth of the Azure cloud platform (Ullman). Having monetized relationships with competitors by creating “collaborative connections, both internally and externally,” Nadella has demonstrated negative entropy - maintaining openness with other organizations in Microsoft’s environment by creating strategic partnerships. Furthermore, Nadella’s story of being an immigrant rising to the top has made Mary feel proud to be a part of Microsoft - “a progressive company, with staying power and willingness to adapt and change for the greater good.” Thus, this shift in management style from Ballmer to Nadella is an artifact showcasing Microsoft’s espoused values of diversity and innovation, heightening Mona’s feelings of job satisfaction, commitment, and increased productivity.

 Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, at the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in May 2017.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, at the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in May 2017.

Josh describes IBM’s culture as “high-performance,” where “excellence is the standard.” With CEO Ginni Rometty repackaging century-old expertise through modern AI platforms (i.e. Watson), IBM’s persistence to keep incubating new products has allowed it to lead transformation in cloud-based services. With IBM’s immense size, the effect of “cost cutting and relentless drive for more efficiency and productivity” has pushed employees to wear multiple hats. As a current Offering Evangelist (Sales Enablement), Josh carries various responsibilities through developing marketing, sales, and technical collateral to “enable and educate IBMers and IBM Business Partners” on new products every 3-6 months. However, in spite of shouldering a daunting workload, John appreciates IBM’s mix of experimental and structured processes, such as: “Grand Challenges” to develop innovative practices; and an annual exhibition of Business Conduct Guidelines – a “mandatory certification process to assure the IBM ethical values, business ethics,” and proper business behavior is conducted.

Therefore, although IBM copes with its vastness through bureaucratic rules to achieve consistency in work performance, Josh’s views underline that IBM’s formalized rules upholding “…fairness, healthy internal debate…[and] respect for the individual” enable it to maintain innovative productivity. In a similar vein, Mary’s development of privacy policies and programs shows that Microsoft employs scientific management to implement procedural specificity, improve work performance and efficiency, and boost productivity.

Staying Relevant

With companies as large as Microsoft and IBM, it is difficult to find unique experiences that holistically reflect each company’s culture and strategic imperatives. However, from the broad perspective of Peter & Waterman’s “Excellent Cultures” model, a cultural element that has enabled Microsoft and IBM to innovate productively is: autonomy and entrepreneurship. At Microsoft, Mary mentioned how she decided to take the initiative and step down from a project role that did not suit her for the greater benefit of the organization’s needs. At IBM, Josh described how one must be able to mine and find the right things within the company’s “vast treasure trove of people, resources, technology, and possibilities” in order to succeed. Both companies encourage employees to take risks and develop new ideas; however, it is clear that in order to succeed, one must drive one’s own success.

Due to IBM’s large size, it manifests productivity through allocating employees with multifaceted responsibilities and a crushing workload. Based on Mary’s variety of team-oriented experiences, it seems that many internal cultures persist at Microsoft within small groups that are tasked with narrow scopes. Although IBM and Microsoft both struggle with streamlining their process-driven nature, IBMers wearing many hats and Microsoft’s role specialization successfully demonstrates requisite variety - that is, these tech companies are able to maintain productivity and create solutions at a competitive scale of complexity due to their internal, complex processes.

Mary and Josh voice similar outlooks on what differentiates Microsoft and IBM from the crowd: their longevity, massive global imprint, ability to take risks, and constant pursuit to help customers succeed and make the world a better place. On the topic of leveraging digital platforms for businesses, IBM’s current CEO Rometty states that this is the “era of man plus machine.” (Think 2018 Chairman’s Address: Putting Smart to Work). Considering the fact that we are moving into a new technological era of exponential learning, I asked Mary and Josh what they would do as CEO for a day.

 Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, speaking at Think 2018 technology conference.

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, speaking at Think 2018 technology conference.

Josh’s biggest hope for IBM, in terms of culture, is to internalize Rometty’s directives about IBM - to act upon embedding digital intelligence in daily processes in order to empower people, society, and businesses (Think 2018 Chairman’s Address: Putting Smart to Work). Mary proposed two solutions: a “Mind Swap” program to deepen empathy with others and “truly change the culture to become inclusive and embrace diversity”; and “Job Swap,” where employees swap roles with their customers and learn about potential issues that accompany Microsoft’s products, services, and solutions from a customer’s standpoint.

Josh’s desire to see IBM’s espoused values of continued technological innovation come to fruition indicates that productivity at IBM tends to see outcomes in the long-term; he comments that if one’s idea of productivity means being “in the driver’s seat from the very beginning,” he would best be served by working in start-up atmospheres, like Silicon Valley. In turn, Mary’s personal CEO agenda addresses emergent and development processes within Microsoft’s culture, revealing that creating more transparency between both internal and external processes could help reinforce consistency in Microsoft’s internal culture and ultimately drive overall productivity.

Conclusion

Whether it be Microsoft or IBM, it is apparent that people and organizational culture are almost just as important as code and technology. Likewise, Microsoft and IBM each house cultures that are more than qualified to break through the clutter of massive disruption in today’s business world in different ways. On one hand, IBM’s byzantine complexity can prevent project outcomes from coming to immediate fruition, resulting in employee perceptions of decreased productivity; on the other hand, complex role specialization at Microsoft, in combination with Nadella’s newfound emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, has led to increased productivity and strategic partnerships in the cloud space. Moreover, whereas over-the-top bureaucratic personalities and product-focused management at Microsoft has previously left them behind during the onset of mobile devices and tablets, IBM’s bureaucratic elements have arguably enabled it to consistently adhere to ethical values and behaviors, strengthening employee satisfaction, commitment, and product innovation. In both cases, as big tech companies that operate on a global scale, Microsoft and IBM leverage a balance of both structured and freeform elements to solidify products, continuously think with a customer-first mentality, and create a cultural climate for productivity. Thus, although varying organizational cultures and business strategies persist at Microsoft and IBM, their individual voices will continue to shape the cloud marketplace together in the years to come.


References

IBM Cloud Video. 20 March 2018. “Think 2018 Chairman’s Address: Putting Smart to Work.” Retrieved from https://www.ibm.com/events/think/watch/playlist/249819/replay/113734399/

Ullman, Daryl. “Why is Microsoft so successful?” Computerworld, Retrieved from Accessed 24 https://www.computerworld.com/article/3247650/microsoft-windows/why-is-microsoft-so-successful.html. Accessed 24 April 2018.

La La Land: Love Letter to Broken Dreams

Damien Chazelle's La La Land: observes the geography of a musical in the present tense; marries lyrical cinematography and song; modulates an era reminiscent of Astaire & Rogers into the key of Gosling & Stone; makes my heart full.


Why Watch?

  • Original & modern - observes classic Hollywood and MGM musical filmmaking in the present tense
  • Film score - defines the story through a continuous, timeless melody; masterfully milks moments of happiness and melancholy; makes oneself melt into the characters
  • Artistic direction - organic camera movement; usage of color via cinematography, lighting, costume, and set design
  • Pacing - editing, transitions, and rhythm of scene sequences mirror musicality and visual lyricism shown on screen through musical numbers 
  • Gosling & Stone - their pre-existing chemistry makes it easy to want us to want them to come together; their relational dynamic gives the love story gravitas
  • Story - although simple in its make-up, the storyline is relatable, making one ponder which path of life is the 'right' one to travel by in light of one's personal passions

La La Land centers around Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), who are drawn together by their common desire to pursue their passions. As their careers become paramount with success, they are faced with crossroad decisions that cause their companionship to fray, and the dreams they worked to harvest in each other threaten to tear them apart.

More than anything, La La Land is about how song is a universal device that heightens emotion, elevates feelings and premonitions, and lifts the wings of a story. Having appeared in previous films together, Stone and Gosling's on-screen chemistry is a given. This theatrical luxury makes it easy for the viewer to believe them, even in a musical dimension. In this case, musical substance triumphs over vocal technique; Stone and Gosling each house a naturalistic voice, much like that of Gene Kelly, and embody the notion that a major function of musicals is to intensify colors that are naturally innate to human expression. The naturalism and simplicity in their characters makes them relatable in both current and timeless contexts. 

Picture Birdman meets Singin' in the Rain. Per Damien and Linus Sandgren, the film's cinematography and camerawork organically capture moments through shots that are vibrant with color and exude MGM era techniques, visually exercising the length and fluidity of single takes. For instance, take the opening musical number: the pattern of movement involves the camera soaring upward, revealing a glimpse of the magnitude of the highway, swooping below to capture more intimate moments, weaving in between cars, and then rising towards the sky again. There is an ebb and flow to the motion of the camera; it lives and breathes like an organism. 

Thus, the beginning and the ending of the film house a daydream aesthetic: the opening number is bright with "Another Day of Sun," and the ending sequence is driven by bittersweet retrospection upon Sebastian and Mia's relationship. The meat of the film experiences shifts in tone; Damien moves from MGM vibes to a celebration of French musicals directed by Jacques Demy in the 1960s: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). Essentially, through the integration of varying stylistic influences, the atypical musical structure of La La Land allows its story to crescendo with sweet sadness; it revolves around the possibility of two people drifting apart as they come together, all while embedding contemporary contexts with timeless themes of forbidden romance, hope, and broken dreams. 

Alongside musical sections, every other scene is rich with detail - a result of conscious decision making. The nuances of color in costume and lighting, the seamless choreographic movement, the rhythmic pacing - in every scene sequence, there is an embedded musicality behind the camera that mirrors the visual lyricism on screen. This lyrical dynamic can especially be pinpointed in the final sequence of the film, which is similar to the structure of the ballet finale in An American in Paris (1951); the last fifteen minutes of the film rejoice with colorful sets, costume, dancing, and artistic editing and cinematography to depict a world that Damien refers to as a sort of alternate universe of Sebastian and Mia's relationship. In the conclusion of the film, audiences are able to see through a bittersweet lens how their relationship would have evolved void of downfalls. 

In a behind-the-scenes segment, Damien mentions that he, along with musical composer, Justin Hurtwitz, and the rest of the team, developed ideas early on for this film by turning a blind eye to all possible obstacles; this means they held no consideration for factors like financial burdens, time restrictions, casting difficulties, or the potential effects of bleak modernity. Inspired by classic Hollywood and the dynamic of old-fashioned musical-making, creating the early stages of La La Land in a vacuum ensured they were able to conceive the ideal version of the film and flesh out its characteristics with exciting, reckless abandon. Throughout the film, Damien and Justin's inspiration of classic Hollywood can be seen through La La Land's cinematographic tributes to musicals such as An American in Paris (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and West Side Story (1961). 

Moreover, the original musical score itself had its own cinematic character. Whereas nowadays mainstream films tend to be ridden with beds of sound, the definitive, overarching melody that Justin composed, Mia & Sebastian's Theme, acts as a musical engine that continually drives audiences to slip into emotional vulnerability; it gives the story moments of reprieve, causing Mia and Sebastian to repeatedly linger on their could-have-been's. 

Aside from the development of instrumental melodies, the fact that lyricists, Benj Pasek And Justin Paul, were tasked with writing words to pre-existing musical conditions is a tremendous feat within itself. According to the lyricists themselves, being confined to pre-defined musical spaces was considerably like "playing the hardest crossword" or "filling in the hardest Sudoku." The ability to pair words with melodies that tell a story, illuminate a character, and follow a certain narrative, all within set musical parameters, underscores the importance of both music and lyrics in elevating the plot. Thus, a dynamic of talking until one sings and walking until one dances was clearly present; because the melodies were beautiful yet linguistically simple in nature, moments where characters broke out into song or dance felt like an extension of a feeling or an emotional gesture.

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As a lover of classic movies, musicals, and artists, La La Land encompasses all the characteristics that I had hitherto presumed would only come to cinematic fruition in my dreams. Damien's ambitious vision to take inspiration from bygone musical eras and create an original musical in a modern space in time, without building a museum piece, demonstrates the timeless power of storytelling intertwined with music.

Thus, La La Land is about the past informing the present. It is about the interdependence of motion, emotion, and musicality. It is about film creators breathing every scene and being able to communicate through frames, colors, dance, and song. It is about finding ways to locate humanity and universal dissonance in different artistic mediums. It is about finding one's own lingering anthem or melody that inspires one to aspire to greatness.

It is rare to see fantasy and reality intersect, much less coincide, but Damien himself has defied rarity, giving his dream musical homage to the ones who dream - a hopeful melody that can be heard if one stops and listens closely enough. 

 

Permanently Online, Permanently Connected

In April 2017, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by Dr. Peter Vorderer, a German professor of media and Communication studies from the University of Mannheim. The thesis of his talk centered around the idea of "Living & Communicating in a PO/PC World," focusing on the social implications that arise from media psychology and entertainment. Vorderer's passion for exploring new media, media effects, and communication theory is infectious - here are some interesting points I gathered from his presentation. 


Trends of Media Use

Having studied patterns of using media for various purposes, such as entertainment, Vorderer presented general trends of media use that have arisen over time: 1) media use is less exclusive, 2) media content is often used "on demand," 3) young(er) users expect possibility for interactive media use, 4) young(er) users also like to use several media sources simultaneously, and 5) mass communication and interpersonal communication merge and take place almost anywhere, anytime.

Layers of Social Life

Being Permanently Online, Permanently Connected (PO/PC) is a hybrid phenomenon composed of two layers: social settings where people communicate with others who are physically present, and interactions where people communicate through technology with others who are virtually present (which in itself is also two-fold - engaging in interpersonal communication versus mass communication via virtual means).

The core of this phenomenon can be observed within social settings that involve eating with one another. In these social environments, individuals tend to straddle the physical social sphere that is before them and the digital social sphere. Interaction amongst a group of people is consistently disrupted by various members alternating turns checking into online social networks; even if members are not physically on their mobile devices, a common scene consists of individuals habitually placing their phones on the table, in their laps, or cradling them in their non-dominant hands while eating. One can even pinpoint this phenomenon when simply people-watching on the street - passerby figures texting/emailing/calling while walking, scrolling through social media newsfeeds while waiting in line, merely holding their phone at their side...

Simply put, the social dynamic of constantly sifting through hybrid layers of communicating with others present whilst interacting with others whom are not present strongly demonstrates our desire/need to not be disconnected. Picture this: whenever one is eating out with a friend or significant other, when he/she goes to use the bathroom, one instinctively checks one's phone; likewise, when the respective friend or relational partner goes to use the bathroom, he/she brings his/her phone along to check into the digital social space. Like the ocean tide, today's social dynamic consists of a constant ebb and flow of shifting between mediated environments. 

The Fear of Missing Out

Regarding causes and effects of PO/PC, one of the most fundamental reasons why PO/PC is growing is due to the human need for social relatedness (the fear of missing out). This concept is not new; rather, it is important to acknowledge that the technological dynamic of constant connectedness and having instantaneous access to information through online media is feeding and satisfying this human need for social belonging.

Ubiquity of Communication

The overall manifestation of PO/PC has created an extensive saturation of everyday life with media content and online communication. Communication never ends - individuals share a ubiquitous feeling of wanting to exhibit constant availability and connectedness with online peers. Thus, everybody keeps in touch with everybody else and everything else. Social media is now a part of the environment and is affecting individuals behaviorally and psychologically. Further research questions about PO/PC that Vorderer poses concerns how adopting specific types of media literacy can affect forms of motivation or fear in individuals, information processing, dynamics of social interactions, individual development, and socialization. 

Online time is progressively growing into a norm/default, rendering offline spaces as increasingly unusual. As inhabitants of a world that is permanently online and permanently connected, we have to make a more salient effort to be alive - to navigate both reception and communication with equivalent skill, and to use digital social spaces to leverage our time, enrich our relationships, and make worthwhile the brevity of human life. 

Get Out: Beneath the Surface

*     SPOILERS   *

Inspired by a class assignment from Creativity and American Culture, here is a compilation of cultural themes I was able to pinpoint in a recent American cultural artifact, Get Out.


Jordan Peele makes his directing debut with Get Out, a film that is tailored for America's current political and social climate. It is a calculated riff on dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a social drama. Above all, it makes known the horror beneath the smile of 21st century liberalism.

Through its morbid, satirical lens, Get Out is a commentary on a nuanced species of societal racism. The premise centers around the main character, Chris, and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage; the couple's relationship has prospered to the point where Rose deems it appropriate to invite Chris to a weekend getaway with her parents at their estate. Initially, her family's hyper-politeness and over-accommodating behavior strikes Chris as strange attempts to cope with their daughter's interracial relationship. However, as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to face unfathomable, dangerous truths.

Acceptability Politics

Micro-aggressions experienced by people of the “wrong color” are amplified throughout the film, especially when the Armitage family hosts an annual gathering of what seems to mostly consist of aging white guests (one Asian guest is present - perhaps this is a nod to the notion that anti-blackness sentiments stem from other minority groups as well).

Due to the white community's unanimous acceptance and manipulation of blackness in their social culture, the off-kilter essence of the gathering can be traced back to Orientalist themes. Traditionally, forms of Orientalism have been driven by a Western desire to culturally colonize and celebrate aspects of Eastern societies to reinforce the West's own moral conception of itself; in the world Chris is exposed to at the Armitage estate, the same pattern of cultural colonization is true between the white community and “black” culture.  

At the heart of the Armitage family and the white guests, there is an underlying appropriation of black culture, benign racism, and double-edged sets of ideas, standards, and expectations. One of the first signs in the film that sets the estate’s insidious tone is the fact that Rose's wealthy family has "help" - two African American individuals who seem like the modern equivalent of slaves; however, their mannerisms are socially bizarre and indicative of psychological or mental dissonance.

Moreover, when Chris spots Logan at the gathering, the only other African American guest present besides himself, he approaches Logan out of relief, expecting to connect with him on a level of cultural familiarity. However, he immediately notices that Logan is totally neutered of his blackness. From his dress, to his idiosyncrasies and speech mannerisms, Logan, for lack of a better phrase, seems like an old, white man in a young, black man's body.

The growing confusion that Chris experiences while observing Logan's inherent "whiteness," and the fact that he is shown to be together with an older, white woman, plays on internalized fears that African Americans experience when trying to assimilate into a society of white supremacy. With any minority group that tries to assimilate into an ecosystem of cultural norms that are foreign to them, there is a ubiquitous fear of having to abandon pieces of their identity to fit in with other cultures, such as predominantly white communities. The realization that the Logan lacks the familial energy that is seemingly intrinsic to the African American experience furthers Chris’ paranoia about the intentions of Rose's family and the African American individuals living at the estate.

Chris' paranoia state reaches its summit when he tries to take a discrete picture of Logan to send to his friend, but accidentally causes the camera flash to go off; this flash of light triggers a mysterious, psychological breakdown in Logan, who seems to recover his consciousness and lunges at Chris, screaming the film's title, "Get out!" Thus, whereas the cliché feelings in stereotypical horror movies deal with physical isolation - whether it concerns screaming for help in an abandoned setting and not being able to be heard, or being trapped in a hotel barricaded with snow – instead, Get Out satirically plays on the fear of social isolation. 

Physiological Perfectionism & Co-option 

The enigmatic behavior that occurs at the Armitage family gathering is also rooted in the concepts of physiological perfectionism and co-option. The white individuals at the Armitage estate are essentially co-opting genetic advantages or elements of black culture that are housed by African Americans to use for their own benefit and longevity. Throughout the gathering, guests are interrogating and inspecting Chris (i.e. making strange comments on his musculature, or blatantly asking for his opinion on the African American experience, as if to find out if "becoming" black would be worth it from an economic vantage point).

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A scene where all the event goers are gathered for a Bingo game is haunting, as the procession of the game begins to expose sinister elements of the plot. Rose's father can be seen facilitating the process of guests placing “bids” on an individual, who we later find out is none other than Chris himself; thus, it is no surprise that this Bingo-like game resembles a 19th century slave auction. It becomes evident that the white guests are bidding on characteristics from African American culture to engineer into their own physicalities to extend and enhance their life span. Thus, their preoccupation with their physical wellbeing and bodily perfection drives them to co-opt advantageous elements of African American genetic assets. 

Transhumanism

Ultimately, the crux of the film revolves around embedding transhumanism into the incentives of the Armitage family's actions; therefore, the family shares the goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and producing technological devices that greatly enhance intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities amongst the white community. Chris eventually learns that the Armitage family is a cult-like group called, The Order of The Coagula, who is seeking the secret to expanding the capacity of human life through brain-transplantation, a process that involves hypnotism and surgical processes. 

This transplantation only adheres if the original consciousness of the host, or “patient,” remains intact. This means that the consciousness of a white individual takes over that of a black individual, leaving the black individual to only exist inside his body as a regressive version of being alive (the film labels this as a hypnosis-induced state called, the Sunken Place); the African American “help” and Logan are examples of individuals who have fallen victim to this process.

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Essentially, the Armitage family, along with the rest of the white community, thrives off transhumanistic motives; they gather to reap (co-opt) benefits from African American culture for their own enhanced, elongation of life (physiological well-being and bodily perfection). Although the specific type of racism that simmers amongst the white community at the estate seems to be disguised as functional admiration or envy, Chris is continually treated like an outsider and must navigate the complexity of nuanced racism without succumbing to the Sunken Place. 

Palmdale: Moments in Time

For many years, Po Po and Gong Gong's house in Palmdale, California has served as a haven for memories; it was a significant part of my childhood, allowing me to experience the unwavering compassion of a close knit family in what considerably felt like a second home. Over the past 20 years, I, along with the rest of my relatives and cousins, have been able to grow up in its arms of warmth, constancy, and familial tradition. 

In light of the Palmdale house having recently been sold, I have been thinking a lot about all the memories that have been shared amongst the Liu family there, especially with Gong Gong. As a tribute to the many memories that have been created in Palmdale over the years, I would like to share some of my personal photos of summers and Christmases spent in California with Liu family members from 2011-2016. 

This is just a glimpse into my perspective on what life was like growing up in the Palmdale house. As you look through the photos, it is not hard to tell that many things have stayed constant within the Liu family amidst years of change: love, togetherness, strength, and food...

As time goes by, I look forward to adding to this photo collection of Palmdale memories and continuing to discover new stories about my family history. I aim to carry forward the values of strength and the importance of family that Po Po and Gong Gong have instilled in me and the rest of the family, and I hope these photos bring you as much happiness and strength as they do me. 


Moments in Time


 

Christmas (2011)


 

Summer & Christmas (2012)


 

Christmas (2013)


 

Summer (2014)


 

Christmas (2016)

True Stories About Myself

Introduction

A couple years before his passing in summer 2014, my grandfather (Gong Gong) decided to write an autobiography. He wrote a 15-page Chinese transcript, detailing anecdotes and hardships he experienced during his lifetime; he even documented significant dates, his job history, and outlined his family tree. After a hired translator created an English translation, Aunt Mona, along with my mom, Uncle Mase, Uncle Marshall, and other family relatives, transformed the English transcript of Gong Gong’s autobiography into a physical book using Shutterfly services.

Several copies were ordered to give to various family members, including myself, in hopes of carrying out Gong Gong’s stories and sustaining his legacy. Aunt Mona even gave it to Gong Gong himself just in time for his last birthday celebration on August 9, 2014. Gong Gong passed away on August 10, 2014 at 11:20 AM.  

Gong Gong's passing was a turning point for me. Some of his last words spoken in Mandarin Chinese were, “Today, we are Chinese…” Although I was unable to understand his words at the time, hearing about their translated meaning later rejuvenated a sense of cultural pride in me that I had never felt before. It pushed me to pursue and embrace my cultural roots, to learn about Gong Gong’s history, and to deepen my understanding of what it meant to be Asian American.

At present, I plan to continue taking Chinese language courses throughout my college career and am even interning in Shanghai, China this summer. This renaissance has strengthened not only my cultural identity, but my human identity as well. I am continually inspired by Gong Gong and my family's strength. 

Today, I feel I have grown even closer to Gong Gong through completing a digital remediation of his autobiography. His stories have given me insightful perspective on what experiences he was drawing from whenever he would lecture me and other relatives about advice and life lessons he has learned. Whether the situation concerned him pulling younger versions of my cousin and me aside to talk about the optimal age to marry, why bananas are healthy snacks, or to discuss the ideal significant other, it is clear that Gong Gong was always thinking of everybody and their well-being.

There are probably details that are missing or have gotten lost through translation or through consolidation of information. However, inspired by how my family has continued to comb through Gong Gong's written and physical artifacts and reflect on stories he has shared by word of mouth, I hope to become a more integrated part of this process of coloring in our family's memory of Gong Gong.

I hope that this digital remediation of my grandfather's autobiography serves as one of many steps towards continuing to remember his voice, his stories, his strength, and his legacy.

The evolution of Gong Gong's autobiography forms over the years - from his self-written Chinese transcript, to an English translation by a hired translator, to an English transcript edited and restructured by family members, to the final product of a physical book, and now, to a digital remediation of his written stories...

View the full Chinese transcript written by Gong Gong here.




Family Background

Kou Chiu is my first name, but I am also known as Dun-Chen and Fan-Han. My legal American citizen's name is: Frank Kou-Chiu, or recorded as Frank K.C. Liu (as shown in my Social Security I.D. card).

I am a Chinese American, but I was born in Yi-Yang District in the Hunan Province of China on August 5, 1925. Di Qing Liu was my father and Hu Shi Liu was my mother. I had two elder brothers who lived in China. Their names were Guo Qing Liu and Guo Ming Liu. Both married and each had 4 children. 

My father was the eldest of five brothers. I am not clear on whether or not my mother had siblings. My father was very nice and very social - people remarked on what a good personality he had. My mom would joke saying that if he met a stone, he would find a way to talk to it. He was a natural salesman, and his workers really enjoyed working for him. My mother was very capable. She could make anything - she made shoes, made my clothes with stitching that looked machine made - and despite not having any formal education, she was the main accountant and money handler for our family and family business. She learned to memorize by color how much money she was given and what to give back in change.  

The Family Business

Growing up, my family were always farmers. My father ranked as the first senior son; together with his four younger brothers, they worked the land and farmed 100 acres for many years.

In 1920, the family changed their focus from farming and ventured into a new business: sewing. We started small and medium-sized enterprises of three knitting factories with distribution channels at a river basin between Xiang Shui & Zi Shui from 1920 to 1945.

These three factories spanned varying locations across the Yi-Yang city. The factories made yarn, socks, towels, t-shirts, wool, cotton, sweaters, and other items. The name of our manufacturing company was Double Linen Made, with our home offices in Yi-Yang District, Hunan.

The whole business, including retail sales, covered nearly one-fifth of the Hunan Province, as well as surrounding two major rivers and communities. Between 1920-1945, the Liu family's business experienced many prosperous years, but then fell into bad fortune because of the brutal years of the Japanese-Sino war and occupation. Our family business was destroyed because of Japanese invaders and their indiscriminate bombing.

Being the Lil' Boss

One time, my Dad asked me to distribute merchandise into the countryside - a trip that would take me 5 days and 4 nights. I was 12 years old; I was expected to be the little boss and to represent the family. 

I had a few workers with me - my job was to lead them and get the merchandise safely to the country, avoiding bandits along the way. The trip required going down the river for 5 days, covering nearly 500 miles. The boat was very small, and I had to use a long stick to push the boat along the river.

When I finished the job and reunited with my parents, they were pleased and proud that I accomplished this by myself. I learned at a young age how important it was to be responsible and to finish a job well. 

War Time

The Japanese-Sino war lasted eight years, from 1937-1945. The Japanese attacked by shooting, bombing, and firing, destroying people's lives and their livelihood. My family suffered greatly during the war and ultimately had to escape from our hometown in order to survive. For nearly 4 years, we hid and lived as refugees in the surrounding mountainous areas.

This all happened during my primary and middle school years. Being young, and given the challenging circumstances, I wanted to study hard and get an education, but with the war going on, that would just need to wait.

Having to overcome difficult situations and to fight to get an education is something I would strive for the rest of my life and what I would pass on to my children and grandchildren. Knowledge is power. 



Rough Road to Education

Our family had to relocate many times, making my education an extremely difficult process - there was little peace time, and it was all about surviving the war.

However, in 1942, the famous National 11th High School opened their enrollment to select the best students across give different cities by evaluating performance based on competitive entrance exams. This school offered full scholarships to most students who were then granted enrollment. Thousands of students anxiously wanted to take these entrance exams with the hope of being selected.

I took this great school's entrance exam in Chon-Den, Hunan in July 1942. Thirty days after taking this exam, despite the harsh conditions, I received a formal notice from the National 11th High School. I was accepted and selected to come into the school as a new 10th grade student. I was qualified to get the full scholarship.

Receiving this great and valuable news during these difficult times brought much happiness to me and my whole family. However, this school was about 400 miles away - far away from my home, and there wasn't any public transportation systems provided. With the school in the countryside, the only way to get there is by jogging and walking - that's it. 

I made this journey alone but hired a helper to carry my luggage. Together, we walked through various high mountains and crossed rough rivers. I covered at least five districts, such as: Yi-Yang, An-Hwa, Sin-Hwa, Nan-Tei, and Sau-Yang. It took my five arduous days of hard walking, running, and creeping along on those long and rough roads. 

Along the way, we walked through a mountainous area filled with bandits. We didn't want to get stuck there, so we sped up to avoid getting caught in that dangerous area. Thankfully, with my quick thinking and fast reflexes, I arrived safely at National 11th High School at the Bamboo Bridge, Hunan on August 20, 1942.

This experience of just being a teenage boy - walking by myself, without family - for hundreds of miles in the countryside, so far way from home and my family - I suddenly broke down and cried. So much mixed feelings of fear, happiness, and hope coming true, and feeling so much sadness for suffering so much!

Military Duty and High School Life

Between 1942-1946, there was mandatory military training before graduating from high school. Every new enrolled 10th grade student should be trained with military courses for six months.

During the Railroad Wars between Xiang and Gui, all students in the school had to abandon their studies. In 1943, the whole school - in total, about three thousand people and students - was forced to withdraw and flee to a small city called Lun-Tan. We had to climb over a height of two or three thousand feet of mountains called Snow-Top. We settle there about six to eight months, then we were forced again to move because of the continuing threat of war.

In 1944, the school moved to Shen-Chee city, and it stayed there for about one year. In 1945, China finally won the victory in the Japanese-Sino war. The Japanese surrendered unconditionally, and our National 11th High School relocated to a farther area named Yau-Yang, close to Den-Ting Lake, north of Hunan. After the Japanese-Sino war, all students in our school settled down at Hexin, Pingqiao, and Yueyang of Xiangbei Province. 

Finding Work, Then Going to College

Due to all the hardships, I had to find a job first instead of going to college now. When I left home, I was 22 years old, and that was the last time I would ever see my parents. 

Finding jobs at this time was very difficult. I remembered Huang, my school mate who died from a bladder infection - his father was an official over several school districts. I mailed him a letter asking if he could help - be willing to recommend me for any school jobs in the area. He found one - my primary role was to teach 5th graders, but I also had to teach music for the whole school. I had no music experience but desperately needed the job - so I took it!

I had to basically fake my way through as the music teacher - I found a methodical way to hide my inexperience. I would break down each song and work on it section by section, playing it over and over again and tinkering on the piano, playing the few notes I knew. See, I would sneak into the school the night before to practice on the piano to prepare for the next day - it worked! In total, I taught the school 22 different songs and even held a music concert.

After this job ended, my father anxiously encouraged me that a young man should go to military academy first - the importance of dedicating your life to serve your country and people. So, in the fall of 1948, I went to Hu-Han and registered for the Chinese Naval College of Technology. I took the entrance exams and physical exams separately in Wu-Han and Nan-Kin. Three weeks later, I was selected with high-standing.

I still remember fresh in my mind, the Navy officer when he appointed me - I was chosen to lead a group of 200 students. Together, we traveled from Nan-Kin, the capital, to Shanghai, entering into these Naval College of Technology buildings, which were located near the Jiang Nan Ship Building factory. 

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Naval College of Technology

This college provided four major departments:

  1. Department of Technology
  2. Department of Shipbuilding
  3. Department of Electric Systems
  4. Department of Weaponry

Some professors were from Jiao Tong University in Shanghai; however, after the communists took over in April 1949, the whole school and students had to evacuate immediately and move to the Tzo-Yan Navy base in Taiwan. After that move, most professors were weapon industry experts from the Chen Gong University.

The Chinese Naval College of Technology was renowned - this new location site was where the new Navy set up its base. It was furnished with new wide buildings and with the latest modern equipment. During this period, officers of the American military advisory team were accompanied by the Taiwan Naval Commander-in-Chief, General Qua. They came to visit our school, to review our publications and magazines in both Chinese and English versions. I managed all of the writing, translating, and publication of these materials. Their positive appraisal and words of encouragement of my work spread across the Navy base and school.

In 1953, I enrolled to take the annual Political Science exams to become a personnel for the Navy. Fortunately, I did well and placed second on the Navy's major political examination from a pool of nearly 250 other competitors.

Working at Air Asia

I was lucky to be transferred to the Air Asia Company, which was previously the Flying Tigers squadron. I worked in Air Asia for about a year, and then I was again transferred to receive professional training of aircraft maintenance and modification at Air Force bases in Tai Nan. Most professors there were military experts and aviation professors. We studied engines and maintenance for aircraft, such as the F-86, F-100, C-123, and C-130. These aircraft engines were built to mainly support the American army and for the requirement needs of the Korean War and Vietnam War. 



Married at Tainan

While working at Air Asia in 1958, my former professors, Professor Zhu and Professor Guo's wife, introduced me to my future dear wife Ho Yin Hoo. Yin was from Wuxi, where her hometown was. She was born in Beiping (Beijing) in 1935 and grew up in Hunan with her two older brothers: Ho Yin Hui (Henry) and Ho Yin Jun (Peter).

When she was around 8 years old, she relocated to Taiwan with her family; her parents hoped to find better job opportunities there. Yin's father, Ho Ting Liang, found work at the railroad; her mother, Ho Ling Tse, found work in the administrative school office, but she also played the piano during the raising of the flag ceremony as the children sang the country salute song to start the school day. 

It is hard to believe now, but my wife had a very severe stuttering problem growing up. At school, the students were expected to stand up in class and read aloud, but my wife could not - she literally would freeze. But, with helpful and compassionate professors, my wife was able to finish school and eventually graduated from business school in 1958. 

During our courtship, I would fly in on the weekends to see her. Finally, on March 30, 1959, we were married. Our wedding was held at Zhi Mei Zhai in Tainan with a blessing from Mr. Gao, who was the vice president of our school. We spent our honeymoon at Sun Moon Lake in Taizhong. After our honeymoon, we visited my wife's family in Taipei and her relatives for a banquet to celebrate our marriage again with our happiness. 


When Po Po listens to this song, it reminds her of Gong Gong. "Still Lake Under The August Moon" was played at his funeral service on August 15, 2014.


Becoming a Father

Having a family was very important to me. I became a father for the first time on November 4, 1959. My first son, Liu Mu Yao (Marshall) was born. Then, two years later, I became a father for the second time on September 11, 1961. My second son, Liu Mu Suen (Mase) was born. Then, two years later, I became a father for the third time on October 3, 1963. My first daughter, Liu Mu Jing (Julia) was born. Now with three children, I was determined to give my family a better life.

I had my eyes set on living the American Dream.

In Pursuit of My American Dream

In 1960, the United States terminated a certain amount of financial aid to Taiwan. Taiwan and the United States broke off diplomatic relations. China recently tested the atomic bomb and the situation was tense. To escape the growing tension, there were many people who wanted to go overseas. I was almost 30 years old and distressed that I did not know how to look for opportunities for traveling abroad.

During a conversation on a field trip with Mr. Huang, who was my colleague, he mentioned that his Pastor Mr. Xia could lead us to go overseas for the opportunity of religious study with just a low cost of installment. It would take around one year of administrative work to do this. Thanks to God, my wife and I were very appreciative of this opportunity and decided to let Mr. Huang introduce us to Mr. Xia. An appointment was made for us to visit Pastor Xia in Taipei to apply for this opportunity.

On July 4, 1962, the meeting happened and it was settled; I wrote a check for 6,000 Taiwanese dollars, and Pastor Mr. Xia wrote a check for the same amount back to me. Our deposits could be refundable if it was not successful. We were happy on the inside but dared not to show it on the outside. We thought there were no problems with Mr. Huang's personal recommendation and receiving help from Pastor Xia.

However, the next day I had a meeting with Mr. Xie, who was an attorney working on the final negotiations to build an airport within 500 meters at Tainan. After the meeting, I mentioned to Mr.  Xie that I wanted to resign and shared with him this opportunity with Pastor Xia. I asked for his opinion and showed him the agreement between Pastor Xia. Mr. Xie told me that it was a fraud - when he casually mentioned it to me, at the time, it sounded as if a thunderbolt had gone off in my head. He added that there were probably many other victims because of this fraud. Mr. Xie persuaded me to immediately stop all processing to avoid being spoofed.

In the afternoon of that same day, I went to verify Pastor Xia’s living address and I was told that the Pastor was from Hong Kong, married and had children. I had to return to Tainan, because I had to go back to work the next day, and I thought long and hard for a few days about how to solve the problems, which was:

  • How to get my deposit back
  • How to prove the fraud
  • How to verify Pastor Xia’s check

It was incredibly important to me to expose this fraud. There was an attorney named Mr. Lee, who was living downstairs from where I was living. Mr. Lee made a suggestion that we should resolve all problems in a peaceful manner instead of going to the court, and it was not worth it for me to travel a long distance between Taipei and Tainan. So, I made a call to my school mate, Mr. Huang, and Pastor Xia. I told both of them that my cousin Liu Yuan Fang was interested in going overseas and needed their help. I also mentioned to Pastor Xia that he needed to hold my check, because my cousin and I would visit Taipei and meet with them again to exchange my check with cash and give my apologies.

After one week I went to Tu Di Bank in Hua Lian City to verify Pastor’s check. Just as I thought, Pastor Xia’s check was fraudulent.

On July 15, 1962 - I flew to Taipei accompanied with my cousin Yuan Fang, who was a reporter. We also had an undercover police officer join us who we could trust. We rented a car and the three of us headed to Pastor Xia’s place on time, Mr. Huang would be joining us there as well.

We started with pleasantries and then agreed that both sides should show all the necessary documents to support our contract:

  • Passports for all the persons going overseas
  • Official documents approved by The Interior Ministry for going overseas of religious study
  • Exchange the deposit checks of both sides with cash. For me, uncertain of how this would all unfold, in order to minimize my losses - I cleverly cut pieces of plain paper to match the size of actual money. Then, I bundled it together and placed real money on the top and bottom of this bundle. This is what I handed over to Pastor Xia. When all the documents, money, and passports were handed over to the undercover police officer, it became clear this was all a fraud and now the police had the evidence to prove it. At this moment, the undercover police officer showed his badge. We were then all taken to the police station to deal with the aftermath.

It was left up to me if I wanted to sue them for fraud and forgery. I ultimately decided not to sue them, because my school mate Mr. Huang was involved in this case, and I already got my deposit check back. I asked Pastor Xia to confess himself to the police officers. I did not expect that my first attempt to see my longtime dream of going to America would end like this.



Immigrating to Argentina

I had to change my life plan for going overseas.

After the first failed attempt with the Pastor, I finally decided to resign from the office of the Asia Air airline company in 1965. I found a way to fly to Argentina since the United States, due to growing tensions with China, had locked down on allowing Chinese immigrants into the country.

On July 22, 1965, my wife and our three young children (Marshall - 6 years, Mase - 4 years, Julia - 2 years) left Taiwan to immigrate to Argentina.

We flew to the capital, Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Tokyo, San Francisco, Panama, Peru, and Chile. For half a year, I wandered in the capital without a job. We lived with friends, and Yin helped out by cooking the meals. While the friends were kind to let us stay, it was difficult for my wife sometimes, because there was not always enough food for the two families. Yin would be busy feeding our younger child and would end up eating very little, often times scraping the bottom of the rice bowls. After I traveled many places and went through many difficulties, I was eventually hired and began working at the Engineering and Planning Department of Ford Motor.

At about the same time, I was also invited to go into partnership for a restaurant and start an import business. For the restaurant, my wife took care of our three children and worked as a part-time chef. I was a part-time manager and jack of all trades... I ended up designing the ornate Chinese circular front door of the restaurant. During those days, we both worked extremely hard day and night, but unfortunately, two years later, our restaurant went under; the import business was blocked, and then I got laid off by Ford Motor Company.

The Vietnam War was happening at this time, and America needed more talented people. So, I decided to apply for 3rd status P-3 immigration. This would allow me entrance into the United States and give me the ability to legally apply for any U.S. job. Thank God - our application was accepted. Our American dream seemed to finally be coming true.

American Dream Came True

We planned to come to America by boat, which was more affordable and safer than by plane. Furthermore, our children had the rare opportunity of experiencing ocean travel with all expenses covered for thirty days. Not only could we enjoy delicious seafood, but we also could enjoy the various nationalities traveling aboard.

Our family of five traveled by sea on the ship named, Argentina Maru, through the Atlantic Ocean, South America, Central America, Panama Channel, and along the Pacific Coast, with a stop over in San Pedro, California. The day after the ship's goods were unloaded at San Pedro, the ship was to set sail on to San Francisco, which was our intended final destination,. We were supposed to get back on the boat...

However, during this layover, I decided to walk to the pier and call an acquaintance of mine from Buenos Aires, Mr. Sam. Mr. Sam was originally from Argentina, but now living in the Hollywood area in California.

While we both were still in Argentina, I casually mentioned to him that I was planning on immigrating to the U.S. Before setting sail, I decided to mail my itinerary to him, just to let him know my journey was starting.

While I was on the San Pedro pier, I called Mr. Sam, but he didn't answer. It was not a surprise since Mr. Sam was not expecting to hear from me. So, I hung up the phone; as I turned to walk back to the boat, I was so surprised to see Mr. Sam and his wife standing before me. To this day, I still can't fathom this fateful meeting. God obviously had plans for me. Let me explain.

Mr. Sam told me he thought he could get me a job at his company in about a week. I had to decide right there and then whether to continue on to San Francisco, with no job lined up, or to trust Mr. Sam with his job probability. To this day, I still do not know what compelled Mr. Sam, an acquaintance, to come down to meet me in San Pedro, but looking back now, I see it as God's plan. 

I made my up my mind to go with Mr. Sam. With this decision, I had to find a way to get off the boat, gather my wife and kids, and remove all 23 pieces of luggage from the ship without getting into trouble with the immigration inspection. I had several pieces of gold, and that was prohibited.

I told the boat captain that I needed to get off the boat for an emergency. He told me to place all my luggage in the hanger for immigration inspection. As I was laying out the luggage, I feverishly searched through the 23 pieces of luggage and gathered all the gold I had packed. At great risk, I handed all the gold over to Mr. Sam's wife.

The inspector came and asked me to open up the two middle cases. He then left for a few minutes. During that time, I pulled out a few trinkets that I bought from Hong Kong. When the inspector returned and started to search through the luggage, I casually mentioned to him that I had these small trinkets from Hong Kong, and would he like to take them home to his children?

Well, that did it - the inspector smiled and then approved the inspection right on the spot. 

After getting clearance, I hugged Mr. Sam. I was in total elation and so happy to be surrounded with such goodness. I was extremely thankful to God that we were so fortunate to have had these great friends waiting to help us in this new foreign country. 



Fatherhood (Again) & Fighting to Survive

On September 3, 1969, I became a father again. My second daughter, Liu Mu Lan (Mona) was born. She was born in California and was the first American born citizen in our family. Now, with the six of us, I had to do double the work to survive to keep up with the increasing living expenses. In the first of the year when Mulan was born, my wife hoped that she could have a long-awaited reunion with her mother and that her mother would help after she gave birth to Mulan. 

At the time, I worked at Weber Aircraft Corporation Company but decided that I had to find a second job, since airline tickets were so expensive. We simply could not afford it on just one income. S.S.P. had an advertisement of hiring new employees. I called the company three times within five weeks but got the same response - that their recruitment quota was full. 

I was worried, because I needed the money. Soon, the company published a second advertisement to recruit new employees. I was told that they still had openings and would set an interview with me after I called the company. When I called them, I told them I would arrive within ten minutes for the interview.

When I arrived, I was then told that they filled their quota again, which made me very upset. I slammed my fist on the table and told them I would hire a lawyer to sue them for racial discrimination and for violation of labor laws and the U.S. Constitution. The situation was a very tense moment, and a manager came out. He apologized and told me that it was the fault of the staff for this mix-up. He examined all of my documents and professional license and then allowed me to come to work next week. I was so pleased and at that moment believed America was a great country - with justice and protection for people who had to follow the law. 

Work History & Struggles

For the next 14 years, the United States experienced the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the nation was weakened by economic depression. During this time, I got laid of 7 times from 1968 to 1982. Here are the following companies:

1) Weber Aircraft Corp.

2) Manasco Co.

3) S.S.P. MFG. Co.

4) APS Jet Engine Co.

5) VSI MFG. Corp.

6) Fairchild Aircraft Corp.

7) Alcoa Corp.

Most of the companies listed above were American Airlines or U.S. Space Defense industries, relating to manufacturing or repair facilities. My responsibilities were merchandise testing and product management. The main workers must have a variety of licenses approved by the federal government. For example: FAA-A (airplane department) or FAA-P (engine department) with technical skills of x-ray, magnetic force, stress, fluorescence, and other advanced testing skills and licenses, which could take years of study and experience. I was lucky and had all these licenses and skills.

Since 1968, when we arrived to California, my lovely wife has worked hard all her life. Not only did she take care of our four children, but she also worked full-time as a garment worker in a fashion industry, studied IT, and did assembly work in Micom until 1989. 

In 1975, we began to do import trade business and real estate investment during our spare time outside of our regular jobs. We had products, such as jade jewelry, wigs, hairbrushes, loofahs, and other beauty merchandise imported from Taiwan, Hong Kong, or South Korea for the wholesale business, and we distributed out merchandise at different places. Real estate investments were more risky. At one time, I had bought, rented, and sold nearly 10 different home properties. Between the buying and selling, there were a lot of required skills, and during the lease business, there were a lot of required tricks. 

During this time, there was a sense of stability and self-reliance, although we rushed in the morning and evening to keep up with our small sideline businesses. During these 25 years, our business had its ups and downs, and we were getting older as time flew away. 

Our Retirement Life

I retired from Alcoa Corporation in 1994 when I was 69 years old. Having been laid off 7 times, I could not get any retirement benefits, because I did not work long enough in each of those companies to qualify. I hope my children and grandchildren can learn from my experience.

Yin has been retired now for over nearly 25 years. She has made extraordinary contributions as my dear wife, as an amazing mother, and as a loving grandmother. Our children and I are all very grateful. 

Now retired, my wife and I were blessed to travel together. We enjoyed going with the Chinese tour groups to Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and then going on local family trips and flying to Texas and Seattle to see our daughters. We went back to China several times: in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2000, and 2003. I used the visits to China to reconnect with my relatives from my hometown, to pay our respect to our ancestors, and to my parents who passed away. For several decades, I provided financial support to my brothers, sister-in-laws, relatives, and folks. I felt sorry that I could not offer more help to people in my hometown.



Blessing of Family

My wife and I have shared much together, including our deep love for each other for these past 55 years, since 1959 to 2014. We have gone through a lot of difficulties and have relocated from China to Hong Kong, Taiwan, North America, Central and South America - our family eventually came together. 

Our children are very intelligent, and they are all married. They have their own careers. We love our children and our grandchildren - always encouraging them to study and work hard, to be independent, to be kind, and to be generous to others. We also teach our children to do their best no matter what they do and be mindful to prepare for the worst. Gold and silver are not reliable wealth, but what is reliable and fundamental is to be a moral person with credit, wisdom, and skills.

Now, we live in a Western society, a foreign country, and should sincerely return to Christ with our love, hope, as well as our faith. We also need to abide by Chinese old sayings and carry forward Chinese culture. Since there is a limitation for us to relocate back to our hometown in China, we have settled down in the U.S. with our children and grandchildren, and we all make our family and our motherland proud of us. I am very appreciate of my wife, to my ancestors, and I thank God for all that he has done for me and my family. 


Gong Gong says a few words on Father's Day - June 06, 2013. 



Grandparents

Mr. Lan Sam Liu - died 1932 at 68 

Mrs. Wen She Liu - died 1940 at 75

Parents

Mr. Ti-Chin Liu - died 1952 at 62 

Mrs. Hu-Shi Liu - died 1954 at 63

Uncles

Mr. Ti-Shee Liu

Mr. Ti-Chau Liu

Mr. Ti-Sou Liu

Mr. Ti-May Liu

Brothers

Mr. Kou-Chin Liu - died 1991 at 75; survived by wife and 4 children (2 boys, 2 girls)

Mr. Kou-Ming Liu - died at 80; survived by wife and his 4 daughters


 Liu Family Tree - gifted to Gong Gong for his 89th birthday by Liu family in Summer 2014.

Liu Family Tree - gifted to Gong Gong for his 89th birthday by Liu family in Summer 2014.


My Children, Spouses, & Grandchildren

  • First son: Marshall Mark Liu - married to Joanne Liu and has one daughter, Jennifer Liu
  • Second son: Mase Liu - married to Maggie Liu and has two daughters, Amanda and Angela Liu
  • First daughter: Julia Liu Sing - married to Tuck Sing and has two daughters, Lindsay and Leia Sing
  • Second daughter: Mona Liu Beggs - married to Tim Beggs and has three children: Samuel, Benjamin, and Josephine Liu-Beggs

My Children's & My Grandchildren's Names & Meanings

  • Marshall - Liu Mu Yao (famous, good Chinese emperor)
  • Jennifer - Hua Xing (holding happiness close to my heart)
  • Mase - Liu Mu Suen (famous, good Chinese emperor)
  • Amanda - Hua Ting (beautiful and graceful)
  • Angela - Hua Jing (strong independence)
  • Julia - Liu Mu Jing (famous Chinese heroine)
  • Lindsay - Xiao Ling (honoring great grandma using her surname)
  • Leia - Xiao Ruei (three hearts of love)
  • Mona - Liu Mu Lan (famous Chinese heroine)
  • Samuel - Xing Ming Er (son of heavenly light)
  • Benjamin - Ban Ji Men (bright hero)
  • Josephine - Jo Se Phen (fragrance and beauty)


1925 I was born on August 5th in Yi-Yang District, Hunan

1937-1945 Japanese Sino War begins

1946-1948 Graduated from National 11th Senior High School - full scholarship

1946-1948 Worked as a high school teacher - taught in Hunan at two different schools

1948-1953 Based on nationwide test scores, I was selected by the Chinese Naval College of Technology in Shanghai; studied in the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department

1959 Married to Ho Yin Hoo on March 30th in Tainan, Taiwan

1959 First son born on November 4 - Liu Mu Yao

1961 Second son born on September 11 - Liu Mu Suen

1963 First daughter born on October 3 - Liu Mu Jing

1953-1965 Worked at Civil Air Transport Inc. - Flying Tigers

1965 In May, family immigrated to Argentina, Buenos Aires

1966-1968 Worked at Ford Motor Co.

1967-1968 In partnership with five other people to open a Chinese restaurant; Yin was the assistant chef, and I was the manager and accountant (part-time)

1968 Qualified 3rd preference, giving my family of five the ability to immigrate to U.S. 

1968-1869 Worked several different jobs: cook's assistant (2 months), vacuum salesman (didn't finish the training), Weber Aircraft Inc., Cen-Air Co., Manasco - quality inspector

1969 Second daughter born on September 3 - Liu Mu Lan

1972 Worked at aircraft non-destruction inspection in Long Beach

1972-1989 Worked at APS Jet Engine Co. in Burbank

1980-1982 Worked in Voi-Shan Hardware in Sylmar

1982-1993 Worked in Fairchild Aircraft Inc. in Chatsworth; retired on Dec. 17, 1993

1994 Northridge 6.7 earthquake hits; 3 houses (17227 and 17245 San Fernando Mission, 16619 Devonshire) with nearly $170K in damages

1990 Moved to our Palmdale home on October 27