Vol. 14


The Cookbook

1987; San Francisco, California, USA

In the first twenty-four years of his life, my dad lived in the People’s Republic of China with his parents, grandparents, and sisters. Always a good student and hard worker, he had completed his Doctor of Medicine degree and was a radio oncologist1 by the time he was twenty-four. Although my dad loved his family and his job, he wanted more than China could offer him. Consequently, when he had the opportunity to go to America in 1987, he decided to go, even though that meant leaving his family and restarting college.

Having stayed up for two full days playing cards and talking with his family before departing China, my dad felt adrenaline pump through him as he boarded the plane for America. Although he knew barely any English, he couldn’t wait to start his new life in the United States. After he landed in San Francisco, he struggled to understand the immigration and customs officials. When he finally cleared customs2 and burst out into the airport, a lady rushed over to him and handed him a book. “This must be a book all Americans are required to carry,” he reasoned to himself.

“Twenty dollars,” the lady demanded. Since my dad had only $200, that was a lot for him to pay. In fact, $20 was two months’ salary for him in China.

“Nevertheless,” he thought, “if everyone in America has to have this book, I’ll have to buy it.” And grudgingly, he handed the lady a crisp twenty-dollar bill. Since he was rushing to the gate for his next plane, he didn’t stop to look at the book until he had checked in for his flight. When he opened the book, he saw that it was filled with pictures of food. It appeared to be a book of recipes. “Why are Americans required to carry a cookbook?” he wondered.

When my dad boarded his next flight, jet lag overtook him, and he slumped, exhausted, but he was too excited to sleep. Just then the plane began shaking violently. My dad panicked, fearing that the plane was going to crash before he ever got to experience life in America. He gripped the armrest, trying to still his trembling hands. Next to him, a woman smiled and said something in English. Seeing the terror in his face and realizing he couldn’t speak English, the woman grasped his hand and held it for the rest of the flight. When the plane landed safely in St. Louis, all that my dad could say was “Thank you.”

When my dad reflects on his trip to America, he is ambivalent. While extremely grateful for his life in America, he feels embarrassed about how naïve he was when he first arrived. Although he long ago threw away the cookbook, he no longer feels angry that the woman tricked him out of two months’ salary. What he most enjoys retelling is the experience on the plane when the compassionate woman comforted him. He learned that day that while some try to deceive you, some show compassion and kindness.

Courtney Wu; Missouri, USA


1. A radio oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer by using radiation to kill cancer cells.

2. Customs is the place where documents and baggage of people entering a country are inspected by a government agency.



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