Happy Birthday Baba!
Happy Birthday Baba! My father, Liu Jipiao, 刘既漂 was born on June 4th, 1900! In thinking about what to write on his birthday, buried memories of the good times we had arose.
Up until recently, I had only thought of the hardships my family and I endured as I was growing up, the struggle to survive financially and personally in a culture so opposite from the one my parents knew. However more recently, knowing how courageous he was earlier in life, how passionate he was about his art, and how successful he was, I am more understanding of what he sacrificed to keep his family alive and safe.
- Even though both my parents worked at the laundry mat six days a week, they took Sunday off for Family Time.
- Riding on my father’s shoulder in Central Park, my pig tales flying in the wind as he ran with me on the grass. It is one of the few times I saw my father carefree, laughing out loud.
- Him lifting me up and holding me on the Merry-Go-Round as the horses went up and down, I still love carousels to this day. In fact, I had Jenn take me to the merry-go-round at Griffith Park over Memorial Day Weekend.
- My Father taking my mother and me on the subway into Chinatown, eating dim sum, and visiting Auntie May and her family there. Auntie May was like an older sister to my mother. She and my mother’s eldest sister were best friends in Guangzhou.
- Going to the movies. Cinderella was my favorite. I can’t imagine my father being that interested in this film, but he went anyway.
- Him taking me to other NYC sites – Empire State Building, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Natural Museum of Art, Statue of Liberty, Rock-away Beach, Coney Island. To this day, I have not tasted better hot dogs, hamburgers or pizza than at Coney Island.
- The time in Rockaway Beach when I thought I was lost. I was 4-5 year old, coming back from the ocean and I couldn’t find my parents. I started walking along the shore, calling for them. And, the longer I walked, the more scared I got that I was lost, that they had left me. Until, after what seemed like an eternity, I heard my father calling me, “Yookyook!” (my Chinese nickname). He had been following me down the beach the whole time!
- How to shoot a rifle on our chicken farm, so I could get rid of rats as large as small cats.
- How to drive a car at age 11 on our farm, first teaching me how to navigate a tractor.
- How to paint, even though I was a lost cause.
- To walk the middle road, balancing one’s life
- With his Chinese sayings, i.e., when one can eat bitter melon, then one can learn to face the bitterness in life. (As a child, I hated bitter melon)
- To honor my elders, my parents, and my ancestors
- The importance of family
I didn’t appreciate until much later that he was, in fact, teaching me about Taoism and Confucianism. Unbeknownst to me, my father gave me the foundation of my native cultural heritage as a way to guide me throughout my life.
And, it wasn’t until Jenn and Jeff Cody started to write the chapter on the latter’s Paris presentation that we discovered that his life was about teaching, even while his medium was art and architecture.
- He co-founded Hangzhou National Academy of Arts
- He was Dean of the Department of Design
- Taught at Nanjing Central University
- He taught Chinese landscape and porcelain art locally in the U.S. during the last 2 decades of his life.
To my father:
I am grateful to you for all that you have taught me through your words and your work. I am grateful that, for the first time, I am able to see you as a whole human being, not just as my father. And, in so seeing, I am better able to chart my course for whatever time is left to me.
I hope my children and I honor you by bringing your work back into the public arena and establishing your place in history.
For me, however, you will always be my Baba.
All my love, your
Gayook (Liou) Wong