Taking Care of the Environment by Helen Luu

MY NOTE: Helen Luu is one of the writers in our Creative Writing group. Because she lived in China and Vietnam before moving to America, she has many wonderful stories about her life in another culture. This essay about GARBAGE is interesting and thought provoking. Thanx, Helen

                     Taking Care of the Environment  by Helen Luu

As human beings we never protect our environment until the climate change became an important issue around the world.  I saw the film shown by our friend Pauline Rosenberg at New Horizon Senior Center years ago.  There were tons of garbage floating in the ocean. I felt disheartened when I saw whales or fishes gulped down some of it. Some animals are at risk of extinction because of the poison from our trash. We are the killers.

I grew up in Vietnam. Every morning people swept their sidewalks and the streets in front of their houses with their brooms. The garbage truck came early every morning to collect the trash. I never ever saw plastic bags flying into the air when the wind blew out like here. Moreover, we had very little left-over food; if we did, we saved it in a big container. Someone would come to pick it up to feed pigs. The city was clean.

In Taiwan, people do the same thing as we did in Vietnam. People sweep their sidewalks with their brooms and pick up any trash on the streets in front of their houses. Every family has three bins, one for the trash, one for recycled products and another one for left-over food. The trash truck comes out every evening around 6 pm to collect the trash and left-over food. On the back of the truck there is a big bucket for the left-over food. They have to bring their recycled products to the recycling site.

One thing amuses me is that the trash truck played music of the Maiden’s Prayer. When people hear the music from blocks away, they know the trash truck is coming soon. They do not want to miss the truck, so they rush out to their front doors with their trash/leftover and wait for the truck. The truck comes and stops at one point, then people walk to the trash truck to dump their trash/left-over food accordingly. No trash worker takes your trash. People have to dump it themselves.

We lived in an apartment on the fourth floor in an alley when we were in Taiwan in 1975. I was told by our neighbor how to take care of the trash by listening to the music of Maiden’s Prayer.  That means the trash truck is coming, we had to take our trash and wait for the trash truck at the entrance of the alley. The trash truck would not stop long, so we had to wait for it.

Every evening I had to strain my ears to listen to the music of Maiden’s Prayer for the trash truck coming. At that time, I was so annoyed why they put such beautiful music for the trash. I felt they abused the Maiden.

Today I have a different interpretation, that this is a beautiful way to protect our environment.

Japan is the cleanest country. There was no trash at any place, even at the train tracks.  When I visited Japan in late 1990s, I could not find a trash can in the city for my lunch bag. I was told to bring it back to the hotel to dump it in the trash can. People have to bring their own trash home to dump it in their own trash can. I think it is the basic practical way to protect our environment. Japanese is no struggling to follow the suite.

The USA is a richer country but does not do better to protect the environment than other poor countries. Plastic bags/container are seen everywhere, on the sidewalks, streets, highways and train tracks. When the wind blows out plastic/paper bags are whirling into the air.

So ugly!

Why could not we follow the instruction to separate our trash in the recycle bin?

How can we do better to protect our environment and become environmentally friendly?

The answer is we do need many, many advocates in the White House.

My Cherished Chopsticks: A Father’s Legacy by Helen Luu

Helen Luu is a member of the Creative Writing Class I attend, now virtually. Her story about her father seemed too beautiful not to post it for Father’s Day. Thank you, Helen.


Background Information

Chopsticks are the major eating utensils in Chinese culture. Chinese people use them instead of forks and knives. They are made from wood, plastic, stainless steel, silver or ivory.  Some Chinese people use ivory chopsticks as their personal eating utensils at home or in a restaurant, but I keep mine as my treasure. Indeed, they are my late father’s legacy, given to me in 1971 when our family was living in Vietnam.

Traditionally, Chinese people do not celebrate birthdays until they reach age 60. They will have an extraordinary celebration to mark this major milestone. Then, after age 60, some Chinese people celebrate their birthday every year, every five years, or every10 years.

Since your age is counted only by the year, no matter what day or month you were born, you are considered to be one year old on the day you were born. The day and the month are not counted; thus, our birth certificates show only the year you were born. Since a person’s day of birth is not celebrated yearly, no one really knows the exact day of his or her birth.

Strictly speaking, birthdays are very important to Chinese people, because they are used for matrimonial purposes. If their birthdays do not conjugate with each other, then the marriage is called off. Also, birthdays are used for burials. If a person is buried on a bad day or at the wrong time, his or her spirit will jeopardize his or her family’s harmony. Moreover, parents do not tell their young children’s exact birthdays to protect from being cast an evil spell by a shaman. Of course, most Chinese people seldom practice in this manner in the current century.

Last Supper with my Father

The Chinese status in Vietnam, where I had lived, had not been stable or safe for more than 15 years during the Vietnam War. My father was able to foresee the current dangerous situation from his earlier experiences, when China became Communist in 1949. Thus, he gradually sent his eight children abroad after the major outbreak of the Tet War. I was the last one to leave the country when I was 21 years old.

I vividly remembered my last supper with my father in the fall of 1971. After dinner, he and I were sitting on the long, leather sofa in our living room. Our servant brought us light tea. My father went over the necessary items with me, providing me with all the information I needed, including who I should contact and stay with in Taiwan.

Afterward, he showed me a long, brightly flowered fabric bag. There was a fabric knot at one end. I carefully loosened the knot. I slid the bag all the way to the bottom and saw a pair of milky colored, ivory chopsticks. I pulled them out. I was so impressed to see my Chinese given name and exact birthday with the day, the month, and the time beautifully engraved on them in a bright red color. This was the first time I learned the exact day of my birth.

What a brilliant thought my father had! I was told each of my siblings had his or her own pair. I will never, ever forget my Chinese cultural or my true birthday. My lips were trembling. My throat was clogged with a thousand words. I just looked at him as my eyes filled with tears. My father was also wordless, but he gave me a gracious smile. Unfortunately, my beloved father was assassinated by a Viet Cong soldier only one week after I left. He had just turned 49. I was traumatized by the news. I never, ever thought it would be my last supper with my father.

My Father’s Legacy & Unexpected Gifts

As 51 years have gone by, the brightly flowered fabric bag has gradually faded. There is a hole at the bottom of the bag. But, the color of the ivory chopsticks stays milky. The luster of the red ink remains the same. Whenever I look at them, I imagine my late father’s countenance deeply imprinted on them.

Moreover, my mother passed away at 92 in 2015. When I cleaned up her apartment, I found my late father’s ivory chopsticks and hers with their names and birthdays inscribed exactly the same way as mine, in the same kind of fabric bag, in her jewelry drawer. My siblings let me keep them since I was the one who took care of our mother’s health. Now I have three pairs of ivory chopsticks as my family treasure all these years. (See photo above of the three pairs of chopsticks.)






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