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Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Roots (part 2 of 2)

Fisherman and Fisherwoman by Huang Shen
Fisherman and Fisherwoman
Huang Shen, Qing Dynasty, China, Nanjing Museum

My Chinese grandparents married because of fish.

They grew up on the eastern coast of China in Xiao Ao (Little Cove), due west of the Matsu Islands, named after the beloved Goddess of the Sea, patron of fishermen and sailors.

There were two fishing ventures in Xiao Ao. The first used a vast fleet to gather fish from the oft-dangerous waters of the East China Sea.

The other worked a tidal fence behind which coastal fish were trapped twice a day at low tide. No matter when low tide occurred, the workers gathered at the fence to bring in the harvest.

Grandmother's family owned the tidal fishery. Grandfather's family owned the fishing fleet. In the early 1900s, the families decided to join together. The union of the sea-faring fleet and the shore-bound fishery was sealed by the planned marriage between the two children.

If peace and harmony had prevailed, I might live in Xiao Ao today. But the merger ruptured when grandmother's brother became a devote of Mao Zedong (Grandpa was aide-de-camp to Chiang Kai-Shek). Grandma and Grandpa ended up fleeing China, and lived their last years in California, an ocean away from the land of their birth.

I think I've only caught two fishes in my life. Once I went fishing at Flaming Gorge in Utah. I didn't catch any fish with my line, but I did trap a fingerling in my cupped hands. I think someone else ended up using my fingerling as bait...

Some thirty years later I was on a research vessel in the Philippine Sea, and the crew lent us their fishing gear. At night the creatures of the sea ascend from the depths to feed, and I caught a squid on my first cast. Since it wasn't as huge as the squid a colleague bagged, I threw mine back in. The rest of the night I couldn't catch anything to save my life.

Tomorrow I can go buy the heavy duty shelves. Hooray!

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