Four travelers from East and West.
Four travelers to California.
Two brought as children, one drawn by gold, one taken in arranged marriage.
Generations pass, and their offspring fall in love.
Four travelers converge in one American family.
BY ROBERT DIGITALE
The morning was hot and the stranger was holding an umbrella for shade as he stood on the street next to the photography shop. A woman, a local villager, stood beside him in the midst of Toisan, a city in the region near Hong Kong in southern China. The two caught the eye of Sau Ping’s father. He stepped forward to learn more.
“Are you looking for a wife?” the father asked the stranger, a Chinese man in western garb. “Are you from America?”
The father had guessed well. The stranger, Franklin Fongson, was indeed from the United States. And he already had spent more than half a year in China seeking a bride. That morning he had made another trip to Toisan to look over the young women there. He had made nearly 20 such trips to the city.
On this morning Franklin let the woman with him, a relative by marriage, do the talking. The father was pleased to learn of this man’s search for a wife. “I have a daughter,” he said. “She has been to school and she can manage a house well. She has cared for younger brothers. I, too, have been to Gold Mountain, to Seattle.”
Over the past half year Franklin had inquired about several women, but for once he wasn’t the one making the first contact. This complete stranger had reached out and contacted him. In response, he agreed to take a first look at this man’s daughter. Sau Ping, a girl not yet 18 years old, was summoned home from the village where she taught school. She was sent into the city streets of Toisan on an errand. Unbeknownst to her, Franklin observed her as she passed by. “She is pretty,” he thought. “Yes, very pretty. I will meet her.”
He arranged to visit Sau Ping’s home. Franklin and the father sat across from each other. Sau Ping sat in a corner, except to serve this suitor tea.
“He looks so old,” she thought. “How old is he?”
Franklin was in his mid-30s, but he carefully kept that fact to himself. He explained he had grown up in a village outside Toisan and had gone as a boy with his father to the U.S. He had served in the Army and was now a U.S. citizen. As such, he could legally bring home a wife to his parents in Sacramento, Calif.
The father told how during his time in the U.S. he had worked in restaurants in Seattle. Probably left unsaid was that he had brought home enough money to help purchase a two-story building in nearby Guangzhou, but a partner had swindled him out of his share.
“I want your daughter to write me a letter,” Franklin said. “She can tell me about her life.” He had asked each prospective bride for a letter. It allowed him to evaluate her writing skills and education.
Franklin said good-bye and left. Sau Ping had no idea what would happen next. She thought of a young man back at the village. She might have a future with him. Should she tell her father about him? “But Father is a hard man,” she thought. She kept silent.
Her father made plain his views. “He is from Gold Mountain,” he told Sau Ping. “You will go with him if he will have you. You must.”
It would be hard to have someone enter your world with a plan to turn it totally upside down. I think it would be harder still to be left in limbo, wondering what this person would do next: take you or reject you.
This is the 10th vignette in the saga of an American family.
The main characters of “American Risotto” are:
Carol – Robert’s girlfriend
Joseph Pike – Robert’s great-great-grandfather
John Digitale – Robert’s grandfather
Kwong Check Fee/Franklin Fongson – Carol’s father
Ng Sau Ping/Elaine Fongson – Carol’s mother
To learn more, go to the “American Risotto” page.