By Yoke-Yin Chong Purcaro

Last night, I received an email from my friend, Shirley, who is from Malaysia . Shirley is an old dear friend of mine.  We used to talk a lot and shared many of our tears and laughter together. However, since I left my hometown, and after she got married, we didnít talk as much as before.  In fact, weíve lost contact for almost three years. I recently sent her a letter by air mail, as I wanted to tell her that I got married in February of 2004. She replied by email with her congratulations.  She was happy for me and also surprised to hear, all of a sudden, that I was married!  Apparently, she had bought me a wedding card eight years ago, but had not had a chance to send it to me! She even said that she has to thank my husband for giving her a chance to send out the wedding card!  

I have always enjoyed reading Shirleyís emails for she is a woman who has her own opinion and who has a terrific sense of humor.  Normally, I would open the mail and read it right away. But this time, with the subject ďLifeĒ, I couldnít bring myself to read it! Instead, I closed the mail and turned the computer off.  

You see, the word ďLifeĒ touches my heart. In the past, Iíve written many articles about life. It doesnít matter if itís about my life or the life of others.  I like to ask, ďWhat is the meaning of lifeĒ? Of course, the answers I have received were very diverse.   Different people have their own definition of life. According to Chinese definition, life means to live, to age, to become sick, and finally to die.  It sounds simple, huh?  

To me, the meaning of life is to be myself, and to be able to accept who I am. How often do you hear people say, ďIím happy with who I am and where I am right nowĒ? Rarely, right? People like to complain, and I am one of those people! 

I remember the first time I left my family to go to Germany ; I was only 20. I went there to work, and I went there because of my motherís wishes.  Going to Germany wasnít really my desire. When I was in high school, I used to be an editor for the school magazine. And my dream was to be a journalist. As the matter of fact, after I graduated from high school, I was selected to attend a training course for young journalists, but my mother didnít like the idea. Instead, she suggested to me that I go overseas to work in her friendís restaurant. Finally, I gave up my dream not because of my mother told me to but because of the poor living environment we had in Malaysia ?.  

I am the oldest of four children in my family. Being the oldest in a Chinese family, I have so many responsibilities and pressures. I have to be a model for my sisters and brother, and take good care of them.  I had to help my mother to do the house work and I had to obey her all the time. Since the financial situation of our family was not good, my mother had to work three jobs to help my father to support the whole family. My parents had to work so hard to pay for our schooling and our daily expenses. Often, I saw my parentsí tiredness on their faces and that made me feel sad and guilty since I couldnít help them at all. Because of this, after I graduated from high school, I gave up my dream, and decided to go to Germany . By going overseas, Iíd be able to make more money than staying in our hometown.   

Three days after my 20th birthday, I said goodbye to my friends and my relatives. For the first time, I left my family to go to a place that I had never been before -  a place that I hardly knew its culture and language. I was nervous, stressed and helpless. I didnít know what to do, but I clearly knew that I was going to start a completely new life of mine.  

It was during the summer when I first arrived in Germany . I stayed two days in the house of my motherís friend in Hannavor. Then, they found me a job in Mainz . So, they taught me how to take a train and wait for the boss to pick me up at the Mainz railway station. Everything I was going to do was new to me!  I was really scared when I arrived in Mainz railway station after the seven hours of traveling. I was standing in front of the railway station, patiently waiting for somebody to come up to me and take me to the restaurant that hired me. I felt dizzy when I was standing in front of the railway station since there were so many people there who were speaking different languages that I couldnít understand at all.   

At last, someone finally came to pick me up.  I then found out that I was hired for the bartender position. Being a bartender in the Chinese restaurant in Germany is not as admirable as bartender in United States . The daily tasks of a bartender were cleaning restrooms, washing glasses (by hand), cleaning carpets and mopping the floors. At that time, I was only 20 years old. Isnít 20 the Ďgolden ageí for young people who are supposed to party and have fun?  Isnít it the age that one is supposed to have a date and maybe go to the movies on the weekend? No, that wasnít to be the life for me. I had to work six days a week with only one day off. 

During the first three months of my life in Germany , I cried every night. I missed my family and my friends terribly. I thought about going back to my hometown, but I didnít want to let my parents down. I started complaining about my life and I started blaming the God for the unfairness. Despite of the complaints that I made, my life didnít change at all. After three months, I started getting used to the life in Germany . I learned how to pour beer, order beverages, and how to pronounce the German alphabet. I got along with everybody in the restaurant; furthermore, the boss and his family treated me very nicely. Since things improved for me, I didnít cry anymore. Yet, I was still complaining!  

After working in Mainz for nine months, in a very special set of circumstances, I found another job in Heidelberg . In Heidelberg , I worked as a bartender as I was in Mainz , but the difference was I had a chance to learn how to serve. After that, I went to Koblenz , Bonn , and Frankfurt . I went to an adult school in Frankfurt when I worked there. That was the happiest time when I was in Germany since I had a chance to go to school again in the morning and come back to the restaurant to start the work at eleven. My German was good enough to communicate to customers and to order supplies and beer for the restaurant. I became a waitress after learning German for almost two years.  

I came to California in 1994 after failing to receive a student visa in Germany . My best friend, Quinee was the only person who helped me to start the second turning point of my life. Did I cry after I came here? No, I did not cry at all. But, I was stressed. Living in California is different than living in Germany . First of all, I needed to learn how to drive in order to make a living. Second of all, I needed to get a car. Well, learning how to drive should not be as difficult as pouring beer from tap, I thought.  However, it did turn out to be more difficult!  I finally got my driverís license after I failed two driving tests. Thank God, I passed it on the third attempt!! After I got my driverís license, I did not buy a car right away. Instead, I tried to work seven days a week to save up some money for a little Japanese car, a 1987 Nissan Sentra. You would never imagine how happy I was when I got this car. That was a little something of my own.  

I had been living on my own for eleven years until I married my husband in February of 2004. Was I lonely before I married? No, because I didnít have time to feel the loneliness. When I was in school, I had a part time job as a waitress, and went to school full time. When I had free time, I had to study. During the spring break, I would rather work more hours to save some money for the next semester. My life was busy and sometimes miserable.  

Due to my stubborn and independent personality, I hardly asked for help from people. For example, I remember one time that I had cut my hand and had eight stitches on it. My left hand was wrapped and I couldnít move it at all. Can you imagine how inconvenient it was when I had only my right hand to use? I felt like I was going to die because I couldnít do a lot of things! One day, after coming back from the doctorís office, I wanted to cook something to eat. At that time, I ate cup noodles all the time since they are easy to cook and tasty. After I cooked the noodles and was ready to eat, I spilled the whole cup of noodles. At that moment, I was staring at the noodles I spilled, feeling the pain on my hand and listening to the groaning from my stomach at the same time. I was helpless! Since then, I realized that I was still fortunate enough to have a healthy and normal body compared to those whoíve permanently lost any parts of their bodies.  

Five years ago, I learned the Serenity Prayer from the bookstore I bought it and kept it in my car to remind myself that I have to accept my own fate. I donít complain as much these past few years. I calm my self down when I was become frustrated. Many times, I tell myself - life is challenging and if I want to really live I have to learn how to deal with it. Life has never been easy for me, but Iíve learned in the hard way how to deal with it. After all, I realized that all these tough times that I have had in the past make me a stronger person who knows how to treasure every moment of life. 

Now, I am not as frightened as I was for I know that I have settled down. I no longer feel like I am a piece of withered leaf that is drifting on the ocean and that will be sunk. When I look back on the life I have had, I smile. Yes, Iíve learned how to replace my tears with smile.